Health concerns with denatured alcohol

Hong Kong Hiking Web: 戶外大夫專欄 Outdoor Doctor Forum: Health concerns with denatured alcohol
   By thisdress on Wednesday, January 19, 2011 - 11:40 am:  Edit Posted From:

thank you doctor for your prompt and helpful reply.

Just want to add that, while doing the kitchen tests, I also noticed shortness of breath, and I could feel my heart racing. It certainly didn't feel like I was just drunk. But I do hope it is just ethanol like you said, I hate to think I'm losing red blood cells every time I play with my stoves!

   By Outdoor Doctor (Doctor) on Wednesday, January 19, 2011 - 12:58 am:  Edit Posted From:

Methylated spirit is mainly ethanol with some methanol (about 5%). The risk of optic nerve damage leading to blindness is remote unless large amounts have been consumed. The toxicity of methylated spirits is expected to be related to its ethanol content.

Skin Contact: Unlikely to cause irritation, even on repeated contact. You won't get sick from daily handling (say, a few drops on the hands twice a day)

Eye Contact: Causes corneal damage. May cause permanent damage.

Inhalation: Vapour may cause irritation of the eyes, nose and throat. High concentrations will cause depression of the central nervous system, with symptoms similar to those following ingestion. Your dizziness and nausea in the kitchen may be related to ethanol effect.

Ingestion: Accidental ingestion of small quantities is unlikely to cause problems. Fatal dose in man 300 – 400ml. Principal effect of ingestion is depression of the central nervous system. Symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, compromised muscular coordination, visual impairment and loss of consciousness.

Clean your pot and you can continue to use it. Avoid direct contact of the food with the flame produced by methylated spirit (though it is unlikely to cause problem).

   By thisdress on Tuesday, January 18, 2011 - 9:03 pm:  Edit Posted From:

Hi Dr.,

I favor a methylated spirit stove for its simplicity and light weight. But I understand denatured alcohol (aka methylated spirits or industrial alcohol) is toxic, can cause blindness or death through ingestion AND absorption through skin.

My question is, how much denatured will I have to come into contact with to become sick? When I'm camping I'm not likely to wash my hands frequently (as fresh water is precious,) also, you have to handle the fuel more frequently than with a white gas (like MSR) type stove. Will I get sick from daily handling (say, a few drops on my hands twice a day)?

Another related question, is it save to keep the stove inside my pot if the alcohol has burnt off or evaporated completely? There's a bit of purple coloration on the stove wall, but there is no liquid inside. On a similar note, if I put out the flame by cupping the stove with an upside down pot, is it still save to eat out of that pot? Can food come into direct contact with the alcohol flame? Or is there harmful substances in the flame itself?

I have been building my own denatured stoves and testing their performances in my kitchen, with all windows opened and also the exhaust fan on, I still get dizzy and somewhat nauseous every time. I'm guessing it's because of carbon monoxide, but is there any chance I'm actually getting methylated spirits poisoning?


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