Chemical burns from concrete question.

My brother and I finished pouring and finishing 7 yards of concrete on Saturday at my brothers house. My brother is much more experienced than I with this, but I have done it before.

We both got what seems to be chemical burns from the concrete. We did not were rubber gloves. We never had to in the past. The concrete would dry your hands out a bit, but it was not a big deal.

My brother will go to the doctor, and possible the hospital today. His hands are a mess. I got a few burns, but it’s not too bad.

We did not where rubber gloves. Never had to in the past. The concrete would dry your hands out a bit, but it was not a big deal.

It seems as though there is a new chemical in the concrete that makes it act more like glue. The blisters it caused stings like the devil on me. I can’t imagine how my brother feels. He can’t even pick up a cup of coffee.

During the pour we had 3 buckets and 2 hoses to rinse our hands along the way. And we used them. We have irrigated and washed the wounds thoroughly. We have also applied anti-biotic ointment.

Questions -

What has changed in concrete that causes this. Like I said, we have never had a problem before.

Has anyone else experienced this?

Concrete is sand, gravel and cement. The cement is the glue that holds this composite together. I worked a little construction to put myself through college and they always told me to use gloves with concrete to aviod “cement poisoning.” The few times that I woked with concrete, my co-workers were always pretty careful about this.


I’m having a hard time finding a good cite on Google for this. Here is the best that I can do right now:


It’s a pdf so I can’t cut and past but look at the first full paragraph on Page 5 and see a doctor immediately.


Here is the Material Data Safety Sheet for unhardened concrete from one site I found through Google. Note that it’s a PDF file and that it’s from the website of a cement company in Kansas. The MDAS mentions skin burns and alkali burns as possible hazards, and of course suggests avoiding contact.

From hajario’s link -

Thanks Haj. I looked last night at some concrete sites and webmd but did not find anything useful. The part about water making it worse is true. Man oh man. It seems to reactivate it. I thought the ‘glue’ in the concrete was an acid. As it turns out. It is a base.

I will dab a little vinagar on a finger tip or two and report back.

Thanks again everyone.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

The vinagar works.

I can’t get ahold of my brother right now, but left messages everywhere.

The vinagar is cleaning out my hands very well. Dosn’t even sting.

I knew I could find it on the SDMB. And thank you again.


Indirectly, you’ve learned about the basics of soap making, or saponification.

Your skin has oils present and the tissues below have fatty cells. When presented with a base or alkaline mixture, the reaction starts and will continue until neutralized. As you observed, water does not help, as the added hydration continues the reaction.

From being a HazMat technician, I learned that an acid exposure is preferable to alkaline.

Our great grandparents, (and further back) made soap by using lye derived from wood ash water runoff (a strong base) mixed with tallow or fat.

There may have been a high level of portland in the mix, as I’ve never had any consequence from concrete finishing other than lizard hands if I forget to use a moisturizer after cleanup.

Yeah, cement burns are a big problem for people who work with concrete (particuarly ones who aren’t professional construction workers and don’t know better). Here’s a good explanation from a company that seels a product to neutralize the cement. And here’s another article from Conrete Concepts magazine.

In one of my civil engineering classes, we had a state safety guy come talk to our class about the dangers of cement. He had slides of a guy who had placed his own driveway and spent the afternoon kneeling directly on wet concrete (he was wearing shorts). He had horrible burns on the front of his calves literally to the bone. (worse than the pictures here)

As to why, concrete burnt y’all worse than last time, I’m guessing you guys got a different mix that contains more calcium oxide. Did you try a different Type of concrete or one with different properties such as “quick setting”? It’s been long enough since I took Concrete that I can’t remember what properties the calcium oxide controls.

I’ll remember that. Seriously. Even after I have forgoten everything else from highschool chem. I will remember how much an alkaline burn hurts. And how it does not go away.

Don’t know for sure. My bro ordered 4000 pound 4 inch slump air intrained concrete.
I can’t thank everyone enough here for what I have learned tonight. But I need to check on my brother, and pass this info on.


Quote enipla
Don’t know for sure. My bro ordered 4000 pound 4 inch slump air intrained concrete.
4 inch slump has to do with the amount of water in the crete.
A 4 inch slump is measured by filling a 10"(iirc) cone with concrete.The cone is turned over large side down and the “slump” or the drop of the concrete is measured.
Its been a number of years since I hauled concrete but I was amazed at how carelessly people dressed when working with it.
I got had blood poisining from getting concrete in a cut before long before I ever worked with it very much so you can see why I was surprised to see professionals working in shorts.

Yep, it seems like any sore gets invaded pretty quickly by the crete. My bro had picked up a hot piece of rebar and had a minor heat burn on three of his fingers before he started working.

The rest of this probably belongs in the pit - My brother is now on Kaiser health care. When he went to them, they had no, no idea what to do about a chemical burn. They treated it as road rash and sent him to an emergency room… The ER folks also treated it as road rash.

Don’t they have some knowledge base that they can look at? How unusual is a chemical burn? I’m gonna send them $15 and have them sign up to the SDMB.

They prescribed pain killers but no anti-biotics. He has weeping burn wounds on about 7 square inches of skin. Eight fingers and his knee.

When they bandaged him up, it was just straight gauze. One bandage on a finger fell off when he walked out of the hospital. Some non-stick type pads would have helped a hell of a lot (at least for his knee).

He went to Kaiser again today for a wound check, and he is being sent back to the hospital tomorrow. They think they need to cut the skin off. No mention of treatment. Or trying to neutralize the alkaloid. He is going to demand to see a dermatologist. The treatment he is getting seems to make things worse.

I’m not an expert, but I’m pretty sure that 4000 pound compressive strength concrete will have more and hotter Portland cement than the bags the sell for setting fenceposts.

BTW, a local cement plant’s MSDS says that Portland cement has a pH of 12 to 13 in water. It’s serious stuff.

Ok, according to the manual “Concrete Practices and Procedures” Released by LIUNA, Concrete is typically 10-15% portland cement by volume. There are 5 types of portland cement generally used in the construction industry. Only type I through III are used in air entrained concrete. Unless it is specified otherwise type I is generally used.

My experience is that 4000 psi concrete is REALLY hefty stuff, we generally pour 2500-3200 around here for driveways. So your cement to water ratio was really low. Meaning this stuff might be way more alkalai than the material you handled previously. The book also mentions that lime is a material frequently added as an air entrainment agent. As you know, water+lime=calcium hydroxide, nasty stuff. In my opinion, lime added mortars and cements are “gluier” I frequently add it if I am hanging stone on the vertical, tends to hold better.

For future reference there are skin protective creams that can be applied before handling cement. These create a decent polymer barrier that needs to be removed with an automotive type hand cleaner. You wont find it at the home center though. I get mine from the place that supplies my safety equipment. It costs about the same as regular hand lotion. Try the yellow pages for industrial first aid supplies or safety equipment. I swear by it.

Yes…I have been finishing concrete since I was 12 because my Dad owned a concete business. Im 33 now and this week I did a job and now have serious chemical burns on my hands, back, and really bad on my legs. Ive never seen anything like it. I didnt order 4000 but suspect thats what they brought anyway. I agree this is unusual and I wondered whats different about the concrete. Maybe something used to save money. I probably should go to the hospital and the pain is unbelievable. My girlfriend is really upset because I will be scarred. The concrete company shouldnt be allowed to make mistakes like that with no repercussions. People prepare differently for using 4000 because of the chemicals and it sets up faster. If anyone has some advice or knows if theres something i can do, Id love to hear it.

Are you aware that this is a 14-year-old thread?

So you’ve been working with concrete for 20+ years and still haven’t learned to respect it enough to wear the proper PPE? As to repercussions I would think some type of lawyer could dig up the dirt.

Go to the ER. You can fix this with vaseline and woo.

Its unlikely that the burn has destroyed the skin, its blistered the top layer, the blister forms in the epidermis so as to protect the inside layer of skin…where the skin grows from.

But if its looking bloody like its destroyed the skin all the way through, then you might need wound management to prevent problems. (infections, scarring…)