What Are the Dangers of Sulfuric Acid?

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  • Written By: Daniel Liden
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 10 May 2020
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Sulfuric is a strong acid that is colorless, odorless, highly reactive, and soluble in water, and which has the potential to be quite dangerous when improperly handled. One of the best-known and most important dangers of sulfuric acid is its ability to cause severe burns when it comes in contact with skin. This is particularly true of highly-concentrated acid, though even somewhat diluted solutions can still be quite dangerous. Other risks of sulfuric acid present when the acid is ingested. It can be dangerous when ingested at high concentration in a single dose or in lower concentrations over a long period of time.

The various dangers of sulfuric acid arise primarily from its high chemical reactivity, the same property that makes it very useful in a range of scientific and industrial settings. When it comes into contact with materials and substances such as metal, concrete, water, and many others, chemical reactions occur — in many cases violently. Proper handling ensures that it only comes into contact with materials that it is intended to react with, thereby minimizing the potential danger. Improper handling or unexpected incidents, on the other hand, can lead to ingestion or to contact with skin, clothing, or even eyes. This can cause severe burns, and eye exposure in particular is notorious for leading to vision impairment or blindness.

Ingestion or inhalation of sulfuric acid can lead to many different health problems depending on whether the ingestion is acute or occurs over time. The ingestion of a sizable dose at one time can lead to severe internal burns and organ damage and, if proper treatment is not administered, can be deadly. Some of the risks of sulfuric acid present only after long-term exposure and may affect those who regularly use cleaning products or laboratory materials with sulfuric acid. The long-term dangers of sulfuric acid exposure include lung damage, vitamin deficiency, and possibly cancer.

Many of the dangers of sulfuric acid can be minimized or eliminated entirely through proper handling of the acid. It closely resembles water and a variety of other harmless chemicals because it is clear and odorless, so many of the dangers of sulfuric acid can be avoided simply through proper labeling. When working with the acid, it is important to wear proper eye and body protection, as it is difficult to entirely prevent and control spills and splashes. A single drop of concentrated sulfuric acid is enough to severely damage an individual's eye, so proper protection is always important.

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