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The action of corrosives results in an immediate, acute, destructive effect on tissue as well as other materials. Strong acids and bases, dehydrating agents, and oxidizing agents are considered corrosive.

12.3.1 Hazards of Corrosives

Accidental splashing of corrosives on parts of the body is among the most common causes of injury in the lab. The eyes are particularly vulnerable to injury from corrosive splashes. Inhaling corrosives can cause moderate irritation to severe damage to the respiratory system. Ingestion can cause immediate injury to the mouth, throat, and stomach. In severe cases, ingestion can lead to death. Skin injuries may be very slow to heal.

12.3.2 Hazards of Strong Acids

Concentrated strong acids can cause severe and painful burns. The pain is due in part to the formation of a protein layer, which resists further penetration of the acid. In general, inorganic acids are more dangerous than organic acids, although the latter can cause deep-seated burns on extended contact with skin. Leakage from containers and residue on the outside of a container following a sloppy transfer can cause corrosion of the shelving.

For information on specific acids, such as chromic, nitric, perchloric, picric and sulfuric acids, see EH&S individual chemical summaries.

12.3.3 Hazards of Strong Bases

Alkali metal hydroxides are very dangerous when allowed to contact tissue. Contact with the skin may be less painful than a comparable exposure to acid because the protective protein barrier is not formed. Greater damage may occur because the pain is less pronounced. Any area exposed to strong alkaline material should be flooded with water for at least 15 minutes. This is particularly important in eyes where exposure can result in global rupture.

The common strong bases are potassium hydroxide, sodium hydroxide and ammonia. Ammonia is a severe bronchial irritant and should always be used in a well-ventilated area.

12.3.4 Nonmetal Chlorides

Nonmetal chlorides such as phosphorous trichloride and corresponding bromides react violently with water.

12.3.5 Dehydrating Agents

Strong dehydrating agents such as sulfuric acid, sodium hydroxide, phosphorous pentoxide, calcium oxide, and glacial acetic acid can cause severe burns to the eyes because of their strong affinity to water. When added to water too rapidly, violent reactions, accompanied by spattering, can occur.

12.3.6 Handling Procedures for Corrosives: Personal Protection

Work with corrosives should be performed in the chemical fume hood. Neoprene gloves, a neoprene lab apron, a face shield, and chemical splash goggles must be worn when handling larger quantities. When working with small quantities, wear N-Dex gloves, lab coat and safety glasses.

12.3.7 Add Acid to Water, Not Water to Acid

Add acid to water, not the reverse. (This is most commonly brought up in the context of sulfuric acid, a strong dehydrating agent.) This precaution is taken to avoid localized generation of excessive heat as the two substances mix, which can cause splashing.

12.3.8 Transporting Corrosives

Use safety carriers for transporting containers of dangerous corrosives for even short distances.

12.3.9 Containers for Corrosives

Keep the container sizes and quantities on-hand as small as possible for the rate of use. Properly store corrosives when not in use.

12.3.10 Storage of Corrosives

Corrosive chemicals comprise a hazard class, not a storage group. In the storage plan, corrosive chemicals should be stored among the following storage groups: Group 2: Volatile Poisons; Group 3: Oxidizing Acids; Group 4: Organic and Mineral Acids; Group 5: Liquid Bases; andGroup 6: Liquid Oxidizers.

12.3.11 Disposal of Corrosives

See Chapter VI, Hazardous Waste Directory, for disposal procedure for specific chemical in use.

12.3.12 Emergency Response: Exposure

  • Skin: Remove contaminated clothing and flush affected area immediately with large quantities of water for 15 minutes. If skin is injured, go to the nearest ER.
  • Eyes: Rinse with copious amounts of water for 15 minutes holding eyelids open. Seek medical evaluation.

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

12.3.13 Emergency Response: Spills

While wearing safety goggles, gloves, and a lab coat, you can absorb a small spill with a dampened towel. For large spills (>200 ml), call EH&S for clean-up.