Tar remover poisoning
Tar remover is used to get rid of tar, a dark oily material. This article discusses health problems that may occur if you breathe in or touch tar remover.
This article is for information only. DO NOT use it to treat or manage an actual poison exposure. If you or someone you are with has an exposure, call the local emergency number (such as 911), or the local poison control center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States.
Tar remover contains compounds called hydrocarbons. These include:
- Light aromatic naphtha
- Methane chloride
Various tar removal products contain these compounds.
Below are symptoms of tar remover poisoning in different parts of the body.
AIRWAYS AND LUNGS
- Breathing difficulty
- Throat swelling, which can lead to breathing difficulty
EYES, EARS, NOSE, AND THROAT
- Severe pain or burning in the throat, nose, eyes, ears, lips, or tongue
- Vision loss
HEART AND BLOOD
- Low blood pressure (shock)
STOMACH AND INTESTINES
- Abdominal pain -- severe
- Blood in the stools
- Burns of the esophagus (food pipe)
- Vomiting (may be bloody)
- Feeling of being drunk (euphoria)
- Loss of alertness (unconsciousness)
- Holes in the skin or tissues under the skin
Seek medical help right away. Do not make the person throw up unless poison control or a health care provider tells you to. If the person swallowed the tar remover, give them water or milk right away, if a provider tells you to do so. Do not give anything to drink if the person has symptoms that make it hard to swallow. These include vomiting, seizures, or a decreased level of alertness.
If the person breathed in fumes, move them to fresh air right away.
Before Calling Emergency
Have this information ready:
- The person's age, weight, and condition
- The name of the product (and ingredients, if known)
- The time it was swallowed
- The amount swallowed
Your local poison control center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States. This national hotline will let you talk to experts in poisoning. They will give you further instructions.
This is a free and confidential service. All local poison control centers in the United States use this national number. You should call if you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention. It does NOT need to be an emergency. You can call for any reason, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
What to Expect at the Emergency Room
Take the container with you to the hospital, if possible.
The provider will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure.
Tests that may be done include:
- Bronchoscopy -- camera down the throat to look for burns in the airways and lungs
- Chest x-ray
- ECG (electrocardiogram, or heart tracing)
- Endoscopy -- camera down the throat to look for burns in the esophagus and the stomach
Treatment may include:
- Fluids through a vein (IV)
- Washing of the skin (irrigation), perhaps every few hours for several days
- Tube through the mouth into the stomach to wash out the stomach (gastric lavage)
- Surgery to remove burned skin
- Breathing support, including tube through the mouth into the lungs and connected to a breathing machine (ventilator)
How well someone does depends on how much tar remover was swallowed and how quickly treatment is received. The faster medical help is given, the better the chance for recovery.
Swallowing such poisons can have severe effects on many parts of the body. Burns in the airway or gastrointestinal tract can lead to tissue necrosis, resulting in infection, shock and death, even several months after the initial swallowing event. Scars may form in these tissues leading to long-term difficulties with breathing, swallowing, and digestion.
If kerosene gets into the lungs (aspiration), serious and, possibly permanent lung damage can occur.
Aronson JK. Organic solvents. In: Aronson JK, ed. Meyler's Side Effects of Drugs. 16th ed. Waltham, MA: Elsevier; 2016:385-389.
Wang GS, Buchanan JA. Hydrocarbons. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 152.
Last reviewed on: 11/13/2021
Reviewed by: Jesse Borke, MD, CPE, FAAEM, FACEP, Attending Physician at Kaiser Permanente, Orange County, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.