Potassium carbonate is found mostly in glass and various types of soap, including hand soap or dishwasher detergent. There is no indication that this chemical may be carcinogenic or mutagenic, but it can be toxic if in contact with skin and eyes, swallowed or inhaled.
CONTACT WITH SKIN
When in contact with skin, potassium carbonate causes irritation, particularly after prolonged exposure. First aid procedures include removal of any contaminated items of clothing or shoes, followed by rinsing the affected area for 15 minutes and an emollient applied. In cases of prolonged contact, disinfection with an anti-bacterial cream may be necessary and it is advisable for the patient to seek medical advice.
CONTACT WITH EYES
Potassium carbonate is highly irritant to the eyes and associated mucous membranes. In case of prolonged exposure, it may cause permanent corneal damage, including loss of vision. The first step during first aid is to remove glasses or contact lenses and then flush eyes with cold water for 15 minutes. Due to the seriousness of the situation, patient must seek medical assistance.
If ingested, potassium carbonate causes irritation in the gastrointestinal tract, resulting in burns to the lips, tongue, mouth, oesophagus or even stomach. This causes vomiting and nausea, intense abdominal pain and, in extreme cases, difficulty breathing due to swollen glottis, or collapse due to a drastic drop in the blood pressure. If swallowed, it may help to give the patient water or milk, unless in case of vomiting, convulsions or the patient is unconscious. In this case, immediate medical assistance is required to perform an endoscopy to determine the extent of burns down the oesophagus and stomach and provide appropriate medical care.
Patients that inhale large quantities of potassium carbonate may experience coughing, difficulty breathing and chest pains. This is caused by irritation of the respiratory tract and its mucous membranes. In this case, patients should be removed to fresh air, and mouth-to-mouth applied if required.
The prognosis depends greatly on the quantity of potassium carbonate, time of exposure and how quickly first aid was administered. Obviously, the more prolonged exposure to higher concentrations of this chemical, the more dangerous and extensive damage can be and more time for recovery needed. In cases of ingestion of high amounts of sodium carbonate, damage to the digestive tract may continue for several weeks after ingestion.
Operators must be aware of risks associated with handling this chemical and use appropriate personal protection equipment. As this is an extremely fine powder, ventilation is essential to maintain airborne levels under control. Furthermore, when using sodium carbonate, operator must use a lab coat, goggles and gloves, to avoid any direct contact with skin and eyes and prevent inhalation. In cases of large spills, a full-suit and a self-contained breathing apparatus may be required for the clean-up.