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  QUESTION: Could cutting barium-zinc stabilised PVC cause symptoms of heavy metal poisoning? 01 May 2006, Victoria Australia

I have recently been cutting large amounts of PVC sheeting wearing just a paper dust mask and have been feeling a bit off color with some of the symptoms of lead or a heavy metal poisoning. I have just received the Material Safety Data Sheet for the product i have been cutting and according to the data sheet it is safe to use and lists no hazardous properties. The PVC in question does contain 1-3 % Ba-Zn Stabilizer. I was wondering if this product is what might be making me sick. Any information would be greatly appreciated.
Kind regards
Richard Theunissen
ANSWER: 01 May 2006

Dear Richard,

Yours is the first question I've ever been asked about barium-zinc stabilised PVC so I'm certainly no expert. I do know that one of the problems of guessing as to whether you have been lead poisoned by looking at symptoms is that you'll never be able to work it out that way. Unfortunately the symptoms of lead poisoning can look quite similar to the symptoms of many other health problems such as flu or gut infection. Having a blood test is really the only definitive way to know whether you've been exposed to lead and since the MSDS says there's barium and zinc in the PVC, it is probably useful to ask your GP to test a combination of metals in your blood eg lead, cadmium (another common stabiliser used in PVC), barium and zinc. The results should help to either confirm or contradict the MSDS (unless you have also recently been exposed to other sources of these metals). The other relevant question is whether you have potentially breathed in fumes ie did you use heat to cut the PVC? I have no idea what kinds of health effects can result from breathing non-leaded PVC fumes or what you would need to test your body for, ie what is a marker contaminant for PVC fumes. If your doctor doesn't know and Poisons Info doesn't know then you could ask your doctor to phone Poisons Info (ph 131126) and ask to speak to their on-call toxicologist.

Good luck and feel free to let me know if any information comes to light that might be useful the next time someone asks me about PVC!

Yours Sincerely
Elizabeth O'Brien

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