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Chemical Treatment Guide 8: PURPLE

Phosphine can be found in a gas, liquid, or solid form. Most gases are colorless to brown, and
have a sharp odor. Phosphine is used as a chemical warfare and protection agent, as a propellant
fuel, and as an agricultural fumigant. Some compounds are used in laboratory research, solvents,
and pesticides. They are released from the combustion or decomposition of substances that
contain nitrogen. A toxic exposure can result from working on or in grain silos.
Very small amounts of phosphine can be trapped in a victim’s clothing after an overwhelming
exposure, posing a risk to rescuers. Routes of exposure include skin absorption, eye contact,
inhalation, and ingestion. Phosphine is a respiratory tract irritant that can cause a severe, delayed
pulmonary edema or immediate upper airway irritation and edema.


Cardiovascular: cardiovascular collapse with weak and rapid pulse. Patients may present with a
reflex bradycardia.
Respiratory: mild and transient cough (only symptom at the time of exposure to most agents). A
delayed onset of dyspnea, tachypnea, violent coughing, and pulmonary edema follows. Some
agents work immediately on the upper airway, resulting in pain and choking, spasm of the glottis,
temporary reflex arrest of breathing, and possibly upper airway obstruction spasm or edema of the
CNS: fatigue, restlessness, and decreased LOC (usually delayed signs). GI: burning of the
mucous membranes, nausea/vomiting, and abdominal pain.
Eye: chemical conjunctivitis.
Skin: irritation of moist skin areas, pallor, and cyanosis.
Symptoms may be immediate or may be delayed for 5 to 72 hours.

• Pesticides (especially rodenticides). Also see description.

PPE (usually Level A) with SCBA must be worn in the hazardous area where phosphine is
present. PPE with a minimum of Level C protection must be worn for treatment outside the
hazardous areas.

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