If, for whatever reason, you just sucked down a quart of DOT 3 brake fluid, windshield washer fluid or antifreeze, get your butt to the hospital right away. But if you can’t get to the hospital quickly, it may be time to break out the booze.
We’ve probably all heard about the dangers of antifreeze, the sweet-tasting, pretty green fluid we pour into our radiators and overflow reservoirs. While touching coolant or getting it in your eyes isn’t great, the primary danger of antifreeze is ingestion, as it can cause kidney failure, and lead to coma or even death.
Because I wrench all the time, and would prefer to live a long, healthy life, I decided to read through a bunch of material safety data sheets to learn about the automotive fluids I work with on a regular basis. These material safety data sheets, which you can find online, describe toxicity and treatments associated with various fluid exposures.
The most surprising thing I found in those sheets was that the treatment for brake fluid ingestion actually recommends that you basically get hammered off of hard alcohol. The safety data sheet for Hella Pagid DOT 3 brake fluid says:
Obtain medical advice immediately. If patient is fully conscious, wash out mouth with water and give plenty of water to drink. If medical attention is delayed and an adult has swallowed several ounces, give 90-120ml of hard liquor such as 40%v/v spirits.
Because children are more likely to drink coolant than adults (because they don’t know better), it’s important to note that you should absolutely not give your children approximately three shots of hard liquor; that would be a bad idea. The data sheet clarifies this, saying “For children give proportionately less at a rate of 2ml / kg body-weight.”
The data sheet then goes on to say that brake fluid and ethylene glycol-based coolant ingestion may require a similar treatment:
Due to the diethylene glycol content this material may have a mechanism of intoxication similar to ethylene glycol and treatment similar to that for ethylene glycol poisoning may help.
So I looked up the safety data sheet for standard, run-of-the-mill Prestone Antifreeze/Coolant, and sure enough, it mentions alcohol as the antidote, describing why it works:
Ethanol is antidotal and its early administration may block the formation of nephrotoxic metabolites of ethylene glycol in the liver. The objective is to rapidly achieve and maintain a blood ethanol level of approximately 100 mg/dl by giving a loading dose of ethanol followed by a maintenance dose. Intravenous administration of ethanol is the preferred route. Ethanol blood levels should be checked frequently. Hemodialysis may be required.
Then, for kicks, I looked up windshield washer fluid, and yep, that safety data sheet also mentions ethanol as an antidote, saying:
Methanol is metabolized to formic acid and formaldehyde. These metabolites can cause metabolic acidosis, visual disturbances and blindness. Since metabolism is required for these toxic symptoms, their onset may be delayed from 6 to 30 hours following ingestion. Ethanol competes for the same metabolic pathway and has been used to prevent methanol metabolism.
So basically, if you drink any of these three fluids, drink a bunch of alcohol, because it will stop methanol or ethylene glycol from metabolizing and creating too much acid in your blood, which can be fatal.
So there you go my fellow wrenchers, here’s on instance where getting hammered can literally be a lifesaver.