Glycerin, also called glycerol or glycerine, is a simple polyol compound with the chemical formula; C3H8O3. It is a colourless and odourless, viscous sweet-tasting liquid that is about 0.6 times sweeter than cane sugar. It is soluble in water and alcohol and has a boiling point of 290° C. It is generally obtained from plant or animal matter. Examples include soybean or palm or animal-derived tallow, respectively. Glycerin is non-toxic as well as not classified as a Dangerous Good.
Glycerin is used in a myriad of ways, including in the food, medical and cosmetic manufacturing industries. It is used as a sweetener, solvent and humectant in foods and beverages. In the medical world, glycerin is used to treat open wounds and burns, as it has antiviral and bactericidal effects. For cosmetic use, glycerin is used to bring moisture to the surface of the skin and act as a smoothing agent. It is also used in oral and topical medications to help protect the skin and throat from irritants. Glycerin is also used in the ingredients for soap bubbles, and in the film industry for filming water scenes to prevent the water from evaporating too quickly.
The routes of exposure for glycerin include; inhalation, ingestion and skin and eye contact.
Inhalation of glycerin causes irritation of the respiratory tract.
While it has not been classified as “harmful by ingestion” by EC Directives or other classification systems, Ingestion of glycerin may still cause gastrointestinal discomfort. Symptoms that can appear include nausea, vomiting, headaches, drowsiness and diarrhoea. Ingestion of insignificant quantities is not thought to be cause for concern.
Skin contact to the chemical may produce mild skin irritation characterised by redness and swelling with possible progression to blistering, scaling and thickening of the skin. Entry into the bloodstream may lead to other harmful effects so it is important to keep the chemical away from open cuts and wounds.
Eye exposure to glycerin may cause irritation with repeated exposure leading to inflammation with possible temporary vision impairment.
If inhaled, remove the patient from the contaminated area to the nearest fresh air source and monitor their breathing. Lay them down and keep them warm and rested. If the patient is not breathing and you are qualified to do so, perform CPR. Seek medical attention without delay.
If swallowed, immediately drink a glass of water. First aid is generally not required, but if in doubt, contact a poisons information centre or a doctor.
If skin exposure occurs, remove all contaminated clothing, footwear and accessories and cleanse the affected area with plenty of soap and water. Contaminated clothing should be washed prior to wearing again. Seek medical attention in the event of irritation.
If the chemical is exposed to the eyes, flush the eyes out immediately with fresh running water, remembering to wash under the eyelids. Removal of contact lenses should only be done by a skilled individual. Seek medical attention if pain persists.
Emergency eyewash fountains should be accessible in the immediate area of the potential exposure to the chemical. General exhaust is adequate under normal operating conditions, but local exhaust may be required in special circumstances.
The PPE recommended when handling glycerin includes; safety glasses with side shields, chemical goggles, dust respirators, PVC protective gloves, PVC aprons, overalls and boots.