OBJECTIVES: This study was conducted to describe the demographic characteristics, and clinical signs and symptoms of patients who visited a general hospital because of the release of chemically hazardous hydrogen fluoride that occurred on September 27, 2012 in Gumi City, Korea.
METHODS: The medical records at 1 general hospital 9 km from the accident site were reviewed using a standardized survey format. There were 1,890 non-hospitalized and 12 hospitalized patients exposed to hydrogen fluoride between September 27 and October 13 2012.
RESULTS: Among the 12 hospitalized patients, 11 were discharged within 1 week and the other was hospitalized for 10 days. The chief complaints were respiratory symptoms such as hemoptysis and shortness of breath, gastrointestinal symptoms, neurologic symptoms, sore throat, and lip burn.The number of non-hospitalized patients exhibited a bimodal distribution, peaking on the first and twelfth days after the accident. Their chief complaints were sore throat (24.1%), headache (19.1%), cough (13.1%), and eye irritation (9.2%); some patients were asymptomatic (6.2%). Patients who visited the hospital within 3 days (early patients) of the spill more often had shortness of breath (27.0%) and nausea (6.3%) as the chief complaints than patients who visited after 3 days (late patients) (3.5% and 2.6%, respectively). However, cough and rhinorrhea were more common in the late patients (14.0% and 3.3%, respectively) than in the early patients (5.0% and 0.0%, respectively). Patients who were closer to the accident site more often had shortness of breath and sputum as the chief complaints than patients who were farther away. The mean serum calcium concentration was 9.37 mg/dL (range: 8.4-11.0 mg/dL); none of the patients had a decreased serum calcium level. Among 48 pulmonary function test results, 4 showed decreased lung function. None of the patients had abnormal urine fluoride levels on the eighth day after exposure.
CONCLUSIONS: Patients hospitalized due to chemical hazard release of hydrogen fluoride had acute respiratory, gastrointestinal, and neurologic health problems. Non-hospitalized patients have acute symptoms mainly related to upper respiratory irritation.