Sulfuric Acid

What is Sulfuric Acid?

Sulfuric acid is a widely-used acid across industry, and is used in the processing and production of many hundreds of different compounds. It’s a highly corrosive and strong mineral acid with the molecular formula H2SO4, also known as ‘oil of vitriol’. It is a colourless to slightly yellow viscous liquid which is soluble in water at all concentrations. At times, you might find it to be dark brown, as it’s often been dyed during industrial production processes to alert people to its hazardous nature. Sulfuric acid is a diprotic acid, and may show different properties depending upon its concentration. Being a strong acid, sulfuric acid is corrosive to metals, stones, skin, eyes and flesh or other materials. It can char wood (but won’t cause a fire). These effects can mainly be put down to its strong acidic nature, and, if concentrated, its strong dehydrating and oxidising properties.

Sulfuric Acid can be found in a number of situations – it’s a component of acid rain and battery acid, and can even form when some toilet cleaners mix with water.

What is Sulfuric Acid used for?

Lots of things is the short answer! 

phosphate fertilisers

Sulfuric acid is most often used in the production of phosphate fertilisers. It also finds uses in manufacturing explosives, other acids, dyes, glue, wood preservatives, and car batteries. It’s also used in the purification of petroleum, the pickling of metal, copper smelting, electroplating, metal work, and the production of rayon and film.

Sulfuric Acid Hazards

Sulfuric acid has been classed as carcinogenic to humans by The International Agency for Research on Cancer. Your lungs and teeth may also be affected by long-term exposure to sulfuric acid in aerosol form.

Other than that, sulfuric acid does cause widespread effects on the body, and is particularly corrosive to the eyes, skin, respiratory tract and enamel of the teeth, so handle carefully! It’s been known to result in:

  • Irritation to the eyes, skin, nose, throat
  • Pulmonary oedema, 
  • Bronchitis,
  • Emphysema,
  • Conjunctivitis,
  • Stomatis,
  • Dental erosion,
  • Eye and skin burns, and 
  • Dermatitis. 

Inhalation of sulfuric acid may result in a burning sensation, sore throat, cough, laboured breathing, shortness of breath and lung oedema, and it’s important to note that these symptoms may be delayed.

Sulfuric acid skin contact issues can result in redness, pain, blisters, serious skin burns. 

If you get it in your eyes, you may experience redness, pain and severe deep burns. Swallowing it is even less recommended, and can result in abdominal pain, burning sensation, shock or collapse.

Sulfuric Acid Safety

There’s a number of safety measures to undertake after exposure to sulfuric acid, as it can cause severe negative health effects 

If the patient has swallowed sulfuric acid, please DO NOT induce vomiting. If they do happen to vomit of their own accord, make sure you lean them forward, or place on their left-hand side, preferably with their head down so they don’t choke on their vomit. Don’t give them milk, oils, or anything containing alcohol.

Emergency eye wash and Showers eye wash in Laboratory.

Got it in your eyes? Immediately hold your eyelids apart and flush the eye continuously with running water. Ensureyour eye has been completely irrigated by keeping eyelids apart and away from your eye, and moving the eyelids by occasionally lifting the upper and lower lids.

If it’s contacted your skin, remove all contaminated clothing immediately, including your footwear.Then, flush your skin, and hair with running water (and soap if available).

Should sulfuric acid fumes or products of combustion be inhaled, remove the patient from the contaminated area and lay them down. Keep them warm and rested.

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