This section discusses potential health effects from exposures during the period from conception to maturity at 18 years of age in humans. Potential effects on children resulting from exposures of the parents are also considered.
Children may be exposed to sulfur trioxide and sulfuric acid in the same manner as adults, with the exception of chemical encounters in the workplace. Sulfur trioxide is only used in industry as an intermediate in the production of chemicals such as sulfuric acid and quickly converts to sulfuric acid when it contacts water in air. Therefore, children will most likely only be at risk of exposure from sulfuric acid, not sulfur trioxide. Exposure to sulfuric acid may occur through skin contact, eye contact, ingestion, and breathing contaminated air. Sulfuric acid can cause severe skin burns, it can burn the eyes, burn holes in the stomach if swallowed, irritate the nose and throat, and cause difficulties breathing if inhaled.
Exposure to sulfuric acid from accidental contact with or misuse of sulfuric acid-containing consumer products is the most likely way your child could be exposed. Household products that contain sulfuric acid include drain and toilet bowl cleaners, and some acid car batteries. The national estimate (derived by United States Consumer Product Safety Commission, USCPSC) for injuries related to drain cleaners over a 5-year period ending January 1996 is between 2,800 and 3,150 injuries per year. Inquisitive toddlers may get into unsealed or improperly stored containers of sulfuric acid-containing products. Transfer of cleaning agents containing sulfuric acid into containers not designed for their storage can allow leakage from the container. Improper flushing of areas recently cleaned with a sulfuric acid-containing product can lead to inadvertent skin exposure to both children and adults.
While younger children are most at risk from accidental swallowing, skin contact, or eye contact with sulfuric acid in household products, teenagers might have jobs in which they may contact sulfuric acid. If teenagers must use acid cleaners in their jobs or work in car repair where they may contact car batteries, they might be exposed. Furthermore, there have been reports of older children using sulfuric acid-containing solutions as weapons, thereby causing severe skin damage when intentionally splashed on others.
Small droplets of sulfuric acid may exist in the outdoor air. You and your children have the greatest chances of inhaling the compound during times of high air pollution with sulfuric acid. This may lead to difficulty breathing. If you live near electrical, metal processing, or paper processing industries, you may also have a greater chance of exposure to sulfuric acid. When sulfuric acid is inhaled into the lungs in the form of small droplets that exist in air, these droplets are deposited within the lung and the ability of your respiratory tract to remove other small, unwanted particles may be decreased. A study has shown that children can have greater deposition of sulfuric acid in their lungs than adults due to children's smaller airway diameters. Also, because children breathe more air per kilogram of body weight than adults, children may take in more sulfuric acid when they breathe the same contaminated air. Increased sensitivity has been witnessed in both animal studies with young guinea pigs and in human studies of asthmatic adolescents. This evidence suggests that children may be more vulnerable than adults to the health effects associated with breathing sulfuric acid.
No studies examining effects on unborn children following a mother's exposure to sulfuric acid during pregnancy were identified in humans. Limited evidence in animals indicates that sulfuric acid is not a hazard to unborn children. Birth defects have not been observed in animals that breathed high levels of sulfuric acid mist. Exposing pregnant rabbits to sulfuric acid did not significantly affect the body weights or cause malformations in their offspring. Again, because sulfuric acid causes adverse effects at its point of contact with the body, the acid, as such, is not expected to be absorbed or distributed throughout the body. Sulfuric acid is not expected to be transported across a mother's placenta into her developing baby or into breast milk. Therefore, an exposed mother most likely will not threaten her unborn or nursing child. Since sulfuric acid's effects occur at the point of contact, it is not likely that it will reach a mother's egg or father's sperm. Therefore, parents exposure to sulfuric acid or sulfur trioxide should not affect their unborn children.