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12.1.1 Hazards of Acids

Acids are proton donors. They are corrosive to eyes, skin, and mucous membranes. Acid corrosion or burning of tissue is a function of both the pH and the capacity of the particular anions to combine with protein. In contrast to burns from strong bases, acid burns are immediately painful due in part to the formation of a protein layer that resists further penetration of the acid. The pH range of acids is 0 to 6.9 (water = 7.0 = neutral).

A pH of approximately 0 to 3 represents a strong acid. Some inorganic acids fall within this range. Weak acids (pH of 3 to 7) include diluted acetic acid solutions and boric acid. Weak acids irritate the skin with short contact and can cause burns with prolonged contact. See Section 12.3, Corrosives.

Chromic, hydrochloric, nitric, picric, perchloric, and sulfuric acids are hazardous acids discussed separately in the chemical safety summaries.

12.1.2 Handling Procedures for Acids

When handling strong acids, use gloves of material appropriate for the acid you are using. For oxidizing acids, use 4H or neoprene gloves. Butyl rubber can be used with most organic and mineral acids. A face shield, goggles, and lab coat must also be worn. A neoprene apron should be worn over the lab coat when handling concentrated acids.

12.1.3 Storage of Acids

Acids are stored within two groups:

  • Group 3: Oxidizing Acids (nitric, sulfuric, perchloric, and phosphoric acids) which should be double-contained and kept in a safety cabinet separate from other acids.

  • Group 4: Organic and Mineral Acids should be stored in a safety cabinet separate from oxidizing acids.

12.1.4 Disposal of Acids

Some acids (such as hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid and acetic acid) can be neutralized following procedures in Chapter VI, Hazardous Waste Directory. Once neutralized, these acids can be sewered. Other acids such as chromic acid or nitric acid must be labeled and collected by EH&S.

12.1.5 Emergency Response: Exposure

  • Skin: Remove affected clothing and flush exposed tissue with copious amounts of water for 15 minutes. If area is burned, go to a hospital emergency room for treatment.

  • Eyes/Face: Rinse with eyewash for 15 minutes holding eyelids open. If eyes were exposed, visit a physician for evaluation.

Complete an Accident-Illness Report Form as soon as possible and mail to EH&S at J3-200.

12.1.6 Emergency Response: Spills

While wearing safety goggles, gloves, and a lab coat, carefully add absorbent towels to small spills of organic acids, dilute with water and rinse area three times. For large spills (>200ml), call EH&S for clean-up.