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Disclaimer: I am not a chemist, but I figured this may be the place to ask.

So, recently, there has been a lot of news going around about the homemade slime burning a child's hands and I got curious as to whether the ingredients were harmful and if the parents just didn't know any better:

  • Borax (Sodium Borate)
  • Elmer's Glue-All
  • Warm Water

And realized that none of these are really harmful to handle on your own.

Would mixing these create a harmful compound?

Here's one of the news articles, they're mostly all about the same incident: 11-year-old girl's hands covered in third-degree burns after making "slime"

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    $\begingroup$ I'm going to leave this open, because I don't think this is a personal medical question. As for 'too broad', hmm, might be a good close reason, but meh $\endgroup$ – M.A.R. Mar 28 '17 at 15:33
  • $\begingroup$ What can I do to improve my question? I intended it to be targeted as asking "Does the mixture cause a harmful substance? If not what are some possibilities that could have caused burns in the child?" - I have since removed the speculation portion of my question. $\endgroup$ – Patrick Barr Mar 29 '17 at 14:28
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    $\begingroup$ I think this question is OK and will reopen it. It is really not a personal medical question, and if anybody wants to discuss this further, please take it to meta. [Please note the difference between, for example, "Is cyanide toxic?" and "Should I drink small doses of cyanide to cure my cancer?"] OP, I saw yesterday that you had a link to the news article - it would also be good if you could put that back in to provide some context. $\endgroup$ – orthocresol Mar 29 '17 at 14:35
  • $\begingroup$ I think this question is okay. $\endgroup$ – Melanie Shebel Mar 29 '17 at 18:05
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    $\begingroup$ According to this article, the girl's doctors concluded that it was "an extreme" reaction to the borax. $\endgroup$ – airhuff Apr 13 '17 at 0:44
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Short Answer(as it applies to humans):

Not in short exposures.

Longer Answer:

Polyvinyl acetate (PVA or PVAc) is the substance that makes up the active portion of Elmer's / school / wood glue -- the rest being water. Sodium borate (borax) can be used to cross-link the polymers present in the emulsion to form a slimy substance.

Some polymer cross-linking processes can be exothermic, but I'm going to set that aside for now because... extended exposure to borax alone can cause the symptoms described. Some of the articles relating to the incident linked to in the question state that the child had been making and handling this material for weeks.

There are a few studies in which volunteers were given lotion/shampoo containing >1% sodium borate. After about a week, some experienced the described symptoms.

DOI:10.3109/10915818309142004

A cumulative irritancy test was used to study the effect of repeated exposures of a hair preparation containing 3.2% Sodium Borate and a cleansing cream containing 1.7% Sodium Borate on the skin of 12 and 14 subjects, respectively (Table 2). The test material was applied under an occlusive patch to the backs of subjects daily for 21 consecutive days. Sites were scored one hour after patch removal. Applications 4 to 21 of the hair preparation produced erythema and papules in most subjects; the total cumulative irritancy score was 571 (maximum score = 630). The cleansing cream caused slight erythema in two subjects only, resulting in a total irritancy score of 6.4. The investigators concluded that, under the conditions of the study, the hair preparation was a "mild to moderate" cumulative irritant, whereas the cleansing cream was practically non irritating.

In a similar study, the contact-sensitizing potential of a cleansing cream containing 1.7% Sodium Borate was tested in 22 subjects (Table 2). Preliminary irritancy testing revealed no irritation to a 48 h patch containing this product; therefore, skin sites were pretreated with 5% SLS for 24 h prior to application of the initial induction patch. The product was applied under occlusion for 48 h, every other day for 10 days (five applications). Following a 10- to 14-day rest, 48-hour occlusive patches containing the test material were applied to fresh sites (with and without SLS pretreatment). SLS controls were also applied. Sites were scored at 48 and 72 h. More than half of the subjects reacted to SLS treatment (with or without application of test material). No significant irritation was observed at sites tested with the cleansing cream alone. The product containing 1.7% Sodium Borate was nonirritating and nonsensitizing.

In summary, this material should be pretty safe for short term handling with unbroken skin. Continuous use increases the risk of mishandling (broken/compromised skin contact) leading to boron absorption which may result in skin irritation (redness, bumps).

Note: Abstract does not mention the specific study referenced.

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    $\begingroup$ Can you quote the relevant parts of the study? From what I saw, it reports it as "mildly or moderately irritating", which doesn't seem to match the symptoms in the OP. $\endgroup$ – iamnotmaynard Apr 12 '17 at 15:27

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