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Date of last update: 8/24/2017.

Forum Name: Psychiatric Topics

Question: OCD chemical fears, but legimate worries?

 j3g2 - Tue Mar 24, 2009 12:16 pm

The following situation has been causing me quite a bit of distress lately, and I would greatly appreciate some advice on what to do.
My roomate was messing with a crt (i.e. crt television screen, it was a mini-one from a camcorder), and it broke. For fun, he scraped off some of the phosphors from the screen with his fingernail. I was reading a website which said:

"NEVER touch a CRT’s phosphor coating; it is extremely toxic. If you break a CRT, clean up the glass fragments very carefully. If you touch the phosphor, seek medical attention immediately" --

This message makes me quite concerned. He has kept the little broken screen with some of his electronic equiptment in our room. When he first told me that he has scraped off the phosphors, I essentially shrugged it off and simply tried to stay away from his electronic devices (he was not concerned when I told him what I read, because I also told him that I had also read on a forum that you had to inhale a lot/eat it for it to do longterm damage --

However, recently I have become extremely concerned. For instance, I have a pencil that fell in the corner near his boxes that had the broken crt in it. I left the pencil there for all of last semester (I am in college), but second semester I picked it up and placed it in my backpack. He told me about the broken crt at the beginning of this semester, so I didnt know about it until after I put the pencil in my backpack. But now that I know, I am afraid of reaching into that part my backpack and I have essentially avoided doing so all semester.

However, last week I began to worry alot more. Now I feel that I have to clean anything that could have come into contact with the phosphors. I am afraid to touch anything that touches the floor because I fear that, since we walk in the area where he kept the broken crt, I am afraid that we have tracked the phosphors around the room on our shoes. Whenever I tie my shoes, I have to wash my hands because my shoes touched the ground, which could have phosphors on it.

Really, I am not at all concerned with my own health, I am afraid of transfering the phosphors outside of our room (i.e. to the library, or to a classroom, or back home) and endangering other people.

I understand that you will categorize this behavior as OCD, however, I am really confused. On the one hand, I realize that I am worrying quite a bit too much. But on the other hand, that websites warning about the phosphors was quite extreme, so I think that I am justified in worrying. I am not quite sure what to do because I do not know what is the 'normal' or most reasonable thing to do in this circumstance. Do I just tell him to throw out the broken crt? Should I also be worried whether any of the phosphor got on his other electronics that he routinely works with? Do they need to be washed? Do I need to be worried about things he/I have touched after touching the electronics? Some information would be helpful, but I am not sure where to go\who to ask. I was not sure whether I should post in this forum subset (psychiatry), or whether I should have asked a doctor with a different specialty in another forum section. My essential question is, what should I do? The question is taking a lot out of me. So far I have washed most of my clothes, my sheets, my shoes, my computer, some of my textbooks, my phone. I have washed my hands countless times. If I knew how concerned I actually needed to be about this, I think I could stop washing and just do what I need to. But the thing is, I am not sure how concerned I need to be, and the website's blunt statement sounds quite severe.
Any help or advice would be greatly appreciated.
 Dr. E. Seigle - Fri Mar 27, 2009 2:56 pm

Hi j3g2,

Sometimes a fear of chemical contamination is legitimate. It doesn't sound clear to me that you have OCD. In fact, your reaction appears to be grounded in the warning on the TV that you read. I would consider contacting the manufacterer of the TV and asking them about what to do. In addition, you could contact the department of health in your state or country, the US Department of Health, or you could Google: "exposure to [the name of the chemical in question]". You might also contact your physician.

If your worries begin to multiply and overtake your time and thinking, to intrude into your life excessively, in spite of taking appropriate steps to protect yourself from this exposure, you might write back to us, or consult a psychiatrist. In the meantime, it sounds appropriate to take this seriously, as you have been, and find out what the risk is, and what to do.

-E. Seigle MD
 j3g2 - Sat Mar 28, 2009 3:11 pm

Thanks for your response. I have emailed the Department of Health and am awaiting a reply. My roomate actually threw out the screen a while ago (I asked him the other day, I tried to add that fact to my post, but I don't think the post got through), but I am still quite afraid. I am not concerned for my own safety at all, but rather the safety of others. I know I am beginning to worry too much about it. I cleaned my room for approximately 7 hours yesterday, washed my hands probably 30 times, washed the sink that I washed my hands in, washed practically everything else I touched (doors, door handles, brooms, etc.). I feel like this is a mix of legitimate concern and also me being over concerned. I am becomming exhausted and I am not able to do much else because this is all I can think about. I may schedule an appointment with my on-campus doctor for monday.

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