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Phosgene, things you NEED to know.


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Informtion about phosgene.

Phosgene is ranked a 5 out of 7 in toxicity by the #Scorecard making it in the top ten percent of toxic substances. No antidote exists for phosgene.

According to the National Institute for Occupations Safety and Health (NIOSH), a toxic level that can place a person’s life and well-being in jeopardy can be as low as 2 parts per million (ppm).

Phosgene gas is a byproduct of some refrigerants when they are exposed to an open flame, or extreme heat. Being extremely toxic in small amounts, phosgene formation was a real concern when traditional refrigerants (R11, R- 12, R- 113, R- 114 and others) decomposed.

The chemical in the brake cleaner is Tetrachloroethylene. When this chemical is exposed with excessive heat and argon (used in MIG and TIG welding) it also produces phosgene.


Phosgene is also known as carbonyl chloride (COCL2). It is formed when chlorinated hydrocarbon compounds are exposed to high temperatures. Its boiling point is 8.2°C, making it an extremely volatile and non-persistent agent.

in case of phosgene exposure, one should leave the area of the phosgene release as quickly as possible. Remove clothing and wash entire body with soap or water and get to a medical care facility as quickly as possible.  Exposed clothing should be removed keeping it away from the head (cut off shirts if necessary rather than pull them off over the head) and should be sealed in a double plastic bag if possible.

If one has ingested phosgene, do not induce vomiting or drink any fluids. Treatment for phosgene centers around removing the phosgene from the body as quickly as possible because no antidote exists for phosgene.


How people can protect themselves and what they should do if they are exposed to phosgene

  • Leave the area where the phosgene was released and get to fresh air. Quickly moving to an area where fresh air is available is highly effective in reducing the possibility of death from exposure to phosgene.
    • If the phosgene release was outdoors, move away from the area where the phosgene was released. Go to the highest ground possible, because phosgene is heavier than air and will sink to low-lying areas.
    • If the phosgene release was indoors, get out of the building.
  • If you think you may have been exposed, remove your clothing, rapidly wash your entire body with soap and water, and get medical care as quickly as possible.
  • Removing and disposing of clothing:
    • Quickly take off clothing that has liquid phosgene on it. Any clothing that has to be pulled over the head should be cut off the body instead of pulled over the head. If possible, seal the clothing in a plastic bag. Then seal the first plastic bag in a second plastic bag. Removing and sealing the clothing in this way will help protect you and other people from any chemicals that might be on your clothes.
    • If you placed your clothes in plastic bags, inform either the local or state health department or emergency personnel upon their arrival. Do not handle the plastic bags.
    • If you are helping other people remove their clothing, try to avoid touching any contaminated areas, and remove the clothing as quickly as possible.
  • Washing the body:
    • As quickly as possible, wash your entire body with large amounts of soap and water. Washing with soap and water will help protect people from any chemicals on their bodies.
    • If your eyes are burning or your vision is blurred, rinse your eyes with plain water for 10 to 15 minutes. If you wear contacts, remove them and place them in the bags with the contaminated clothing. Do not put the contacts back in your eyes. If you wear eyeglasses, wash them with soap and water. You can put the eyeglasses back on after you wash them.
  • If you have ingested (swallowed) phosgene, do not induce vomiting or drink fluids.
  • Seek medical attention right away. Dial 911 and explain what has happened.

How phosgene exposure is treated

Treatment for phosgene exposure consists of removing phosgene from the body as soon as possible and providing supportive medical care in a hospital setting. No antidote exists for phosgene. Exposed people should be observed for up to 48 hours, because it may take that long for symptoms to develop or reoccur.


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I am a little confused by the NIOSH suggestion to "wash with soap & water".

Does "soap" refer to the standard bar of soap material (e.g. ivory soap) or to detergent?

The term in question is ambiguous.

Thank you for an anticipated response.


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Slag: A lot of emergency procedures are like that, vague. The thinking is probably better to have a victim or responders wash with something rather than take time looking for the "right" soap. 

However, I am very interested to hear what you say we should use.

Frosty The Lucky.

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  • INDIVIDUAL DECONTAMINATION: The following methods can be used to decontaminate an individual:
    • Decontamination of First Responder:
      • Begin washing PPE of the first responder using soap and water solution and a soft brush. Always move in a downward motion (from head to toe). Make sure to get into all areas, especially folds in the clothing. Wash and rinse (using cold or warm water) until the contaminant is thoroughly removed.
      • Remove PPE by rolling downward (from head to toe) and avoid pulling PPE off over the head. Remove the SCBA after other PPE has been removed.
      • Place all PPE in labeled durable 6-mil polyethylene bags.
    • Decontamination of Patient/Victim:
      • Remove the patient/victim from the contaminated area and into the decontamination corridor.
      • Remove all clothing (at least down to their undergarments) and place the clothing in a labeled durable 6-mil polyethylene bag.
      • Thoroughly wash and rinse (using cold or warm water) the contaminated skin of the patient/victim using a soap and water solution. Be careful not to break the patient/victim’s skin during the decontamination process, and cover all open wounds.
      • Cover the patient/victim to prevent shock and loss of body heat.
      • Move the patient/victim to an area where emergency medical treatment can be provided.
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I would use a detergent-water solution. It quickly dissolves & is ready for flooding and washing away phosgene.

Waiting for a soap and water mixture to lather up and then be usable takes too long. Detergents solubilize many organic chemicals and almost all oils, so that they form a solution with the washing water, flow away from the person who has been contaminated.

The water, also, breaks down phosgene into HCl and carbon dioxide.

Bottles of detergents are usually close to hand in most houses and many workshops. Soap requires a search throughout the house. Time is critical for cases of contamination. This is another reason for detergent and water use

Organic chlorides have been phased out of brake cleaning fluids and most metal degreasing products. So this potential phosgene generation is getting much rarer. But older equipment and shops may still have those products available.

The accidental production of phosgene usually happens when an organic chloride chemical is exposed to ultra violet (U.V.) rays.

Those chemicals react with the oxygen in the air to form phosgene. But the reaction requires ultra-violet rays to happen. I.e. the latter rays are a catalyst for the reaction. (the formula for the reaction is RCl + O2 produce O=CCl2 (a.k.a. phosgene),  "R" stands for any organic compound.

Arc welding equipment generate U.V. So organic chloride chemicals should not be anywhere near arc welding equipment. In other words, keep those degreasers elsewhere, and not in the shop (& smithy).

Household accidental generation of phosgene, by any resident organic chloride degreaser, is unlikely as ultra violet rays are not usually generated in the house. 

Phosgene can be generated by heating refrigerant and air conditioning gases. (i.e. in a fire).

Also, smoking near Freon gas will generate phosgene. Also, Halon fire extinguishers and heat is not safe. 

I hope this long involved message is of use to some of the fraternity.


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Thank you Slag, that's exactly what I was hoping for, precise procedures and the reasons. Dish soap I assume?

I have one last addition to the thread. ANY time you're washing off contamination use the coldest water you can tolerate. Hot water will open your pores and admit contaminants through your skin. However if the water is too cold it can cause shock or just be so uncomfortable the victim stops too soon or refuses help. You can NOT administer 1st. aid to someone who refuses it. For drowning victims you might have to let them lose consciousness to save their life. 

As cool water as the victim can tolerate and detergent, Wash and flush the victim AND yourself. I was taught to flush then strip the victim and use soapy rags before taking a SOFT brush to them while wearing PPE. Some chemical contamination you can't do anything but flush from a distance if YOU don't have adequate PPE.

Phosgene is insidiously dangerous stuff, it can get you in any number of ways. Oh yeah, never, Never, NEVER use a solvent to wash with! Some like WD40 contain or ARE transdermal solvents meaning it travels directly through your skin to your blood stream and carries what EVER is on your skin with it.

Frosty The Lucky.

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The victim should be stripped immediately and then flooded with detergent and water.

If some of the contamination  is on a garment  (e.g. a shirt), near the face, cut it off. That is what OSHA et al, state. That lessens further contact with the contaminated garment.

(i.e. do not pull it up and off the head).

Using cold water is a great idea. But I would not wait for the the water to cool. Speeding to limit the exposure time is critical.


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Agreed IF you can do it safely. Some chemical spills are toxic enough the responder needs PPE and if they don't have it they need to do the best to not make victims of themselves. Standing back and hosing the victim might be the ONLY thing you can safely do. 

Imagine the situation when the only proper thing to do is stand back and watch people die. IIRC about 20+ years ago there was a leak of the refrigeration system in an ice rink and the rink filled with freon. Four people ignored shouted orders and rushed onto the ice to rescue the kids dying on the ice and joined them as fatalities. It wasn't until responders with supplied air breathing gear arrived that the rink surface was a survivable environment. IIRC 7 fatalities, the first rescuers became victims within seconds.

Frosty The Lucky.

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  • 1 year later...

Sometimes that is all you can do - one of my many hats is as a hazmat incident responder and trainer, and the one thing we repeat over and over and over is NEVER put yourself in harms way tp rescue a corpse, and when you rush in unprepared to a hazmat environment to save someone, now the next rescuers have two contaminated people to rescue.  One of my favorite training videos is a cop responding to a leaking ammonia ag tank trailer, thinking it was a vehicle fire, and he saw a body lying on the ground next to the trailer (and in the cloud), and rushed in to save the corpse...  and it dropped him as well.  Were the FD not there within minutes, he would have been victim #2 - as it was, he ended up with horrendous scarring on his lungs.

Just be careful with what you let get fuming and into your lungs...  a lot of us work independently, and solo, and that call to save your life may be the UPS guy who shows up 6 hours later to drop off the package...  


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