AA Alkaline Battery leakage health risks?
October 11, 2011 1:07 AM   Subscribe

Alkaline AA Battery leakage: Just how dangerous is that stuff? There is a chance that I may have accidentally stuck a tissue up my nose that I had used earlier wipe off some AA alkaline Battery Leakage. What would be the symptoms?

I know you are not my doctor and this is not medical advice but:

I'm really not sure if that was the tissue I"d used and have since thrown it out. It was a few days ago. (Sunday morning).
I didn't see a doctor as (a) it was Sunday, (b) I don't have medical cover here and (c) there were no symptoms. ie. no burning sensation. I tried to wash off my nose and lip area immediately afterwards and everything seems to be fine... but I can't shake that feeling of dread.

There are no real symptoms beyond possibly psychosomatic feeling that something is up... you know - ever so slightly watery eyes, slightly odd feelings in the nose cavity.. ( but possibly caused by the rinsing itself).

Google suggests that it was Potassium hydroxide - how dangerous is that? Anecdotal evidence around suggests that its not that bad, and you could even lick alkaline batteries without significant ill effects.

- Would it be absorbed by the mucous membrane in my nasal cavity? and get 'inside' somewhere?

- Would it just cause a little chemical burn then peter out?
posted by mary8nne to Health & Fitness (9 answers total)
Have you seen this: http://health.nytimes.com/health/guides/poison/potassium-hydroxide/overview.html

There is a hotline number (National Poison Control Center 1-800-222-1222) in there that you can call.
posted by vidur at 1:15 AM on October 11, 2011

Would it just cause a little chemical burn then peter out?

Yes - potassium hydroxide is not particularly dangerous in small amounts, beyond the corrosive effects. It is rated "harmful" rather than toxic.

In case of skin contact, medical attention is only suggested if "if irritation persists after washing."

Here's a safety data sheet for a whole alkaline battery. Again, in case of skin contact, medical attention is only indicated "if irritation persists".

The data above would be relevant for swallowing a significant quantity.
posted by firesine at 2:20 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Duracell suggests their Alkaline batteries are made of Alkaline Manganese Dioxide. There is a COSH datasheet here for alkaline batteries. Basically it says that the risk from exposure is being burnt by the caustic material. You weren't, so don't worry about it.
posted by prentiz at 2:23 AM on October 11, 2011

They were Duracell actually - a few years old.

I imagine the volume that could have been left in my nasal cavity would actually be minuscule. i.e. the possible transfer from a 'damp' tissue paper. hmm I should probably just stop worrying about it then.
posted by mary8nne at 2:31 AM on October 11, 2011

If it's potassium hydroxide, don't worry. Potassium hydroxide is a common ingredient in all sorts of things people use on their skin: shaving products, cuticle remover etc. The fact that there's no burning sensation means that you have nothing to worry about. If there was enough to react with your skin you'd certainly feel it. I'd imagine the sensation would be quite similiar to the burning you get from handling wet cement, if you've ever done that.

And a tiny amount of extra potassium inside your body? Don't worry about that either - your body needs a certain amount of potassium, and there's little chance you'll have absorbed enough to cause an electrolyte imbalance. It's not a nasty like lead or mercury, in other words.

You're fine. This is your imagination messing with you. Stop worrying, honestly.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 2:41 AM on October 11, 2011

I have spilled battery acid on myself and it's a sort of thing you know instantly if you get it on you. You are fine.
posted by jessamyn at 6:56 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

You are fine. Vinegar and water will help clean up the mess from the battery by neutralizing the potassium hydroxide. The reason they're called alkaline batteries is that they use an alkaline electrolyte, thus, you use an acid to neutralize it.

For a car battery, or non-alkaline cells, you'll want baking soda and water, to neutralize the acid in the electrolyte.

KOH is a caustic material (not as bad as NaOH, but still caustic.) However, you're not complaining about pain, holes in your skin, etc., so you didn't get enough on you to do any real damage. Given that your mentioning your nose, which has thinner skin (and worse, the mucos membranes inside your nose) I'm certain you, at worse, got a minuscule dose.
posted by eriko at 7:52 AM on October 11, 2011

Short answer: flush with running water and you should be fine.

Here's a diagram of the battery. Here's the chemical safety information for your battery. It doesn't appear to have changed since 2001. For batteries, it's always good to check. There are many formulations out there, and they all have different risks.

You've got one of the simplest and most common types. As other have said, what leaks out is KOH --- potassium hydroxide. It's the only fluid in the battery. The major concern with KOH is caustic burns, very similar to lye burns. Though, as they say in the MSDS, it's not particularly dangerous in small amounts:
a. Contact
Irritation, including caustic burns/injury, may occur following exposure to a leaking battery.

b. Absorption
Not anticipated
If you didn't expereince any burns or itching, I would interpret that as being safe. There should be no long-term or subtle issues like skin absorption or heavy metal exposure. A wash with running water should be all the precaution you need.

This is not medical advice---this is just some internet bozo intrepreting the manufacturer's stated info. If you feel burning or itching in the affected area, you may want to see your doctor.
posted by bonehead at 8:50 AM on October 11, 2011

I've had a KOH burn--was working in a chem lab, wearing gloves, but I happened to lean my wrist against the edge of the base bath, above where the gloves reached. It felt very like a temperature burn after a few minutes (hadn't even noticed the contact until I felt it.) I rinsed it with lots of water and that was about it, though I have a small mark on my arm several years later, which makes for a good story to tell lab newbies (I turned my skin into soap!) but is no big deal. Rinsing the area would have stopped any damage in progress, and anything that got through your membranes would immmediately be diluted to undetectable levels (you've already got potassium and OH ions floating around in the first place). You'll be fine.
posted by tchemgrrl at 12:56 PM on October 11, 2011

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