Careful with Corrosives
Corrosives are powerful chemicals that are necessary for
some jobs. Because you can't always avoid using them, you
must be aware of how to protect yourself from their hazards.
Use the MSDS
Before you use any corrosive product, read its material
safety data sheet (MSDS). The MSDS will tell you what is in
the product. It will also tell you the product's health hazards
and physical hazards. The MSDS will outline recommendations
for safe handling procedures, personal protective equipment,
first aid procedures, and other important information.
What is a corrosive?
Corrosives are contained in common household products such
as batteries or drain openers. They are also required for
some of the operations in your workplace.
Corrosives can be liquids, powders, pellets, or gases.
Most have a strong, irritating odor. Reactions involving corrosives
can display spattering and create heat and fumes.
Corrosives can be either acids or bases. It is always important
to read the container's label to identify a substance. There
is another way to detect the presence of a corrosive. You
can use a specially treated paper called litmus paper. Litmus
paper turns red in the presence of an acid. It turns blue
in the presence of a base. The pH scale defines the strength
of acids and bases, with a value of 7 being neutral.
pH = 1 = strong acid (red litmus paper)
pH = 7 = neutral
pH = 14 = strong base (blue litmus paper)
How can they hurt me?
Corrosives can cause irritation and chemical burns. They
can also be poisonous.
Your skin and the mucous membranes of your eyes, nose,
mouth, and respiratory tract are targets for irritation and
burning from contact with corrosives.
What do you feel when you come into contact with a corrosive?
Some corrosives, especially acids, will cause a burning, irritating
sensation, and some may be very painful. But, some corrosives
may not cause any immediate pain even though they are still
causing damage. When a base comes in contact with your skin,
you may feel a slippery sensation instead of a burning irritation.
Battery acid is another example of a corrosive
that may not cause immediate pain if it gets on your skin.
Corrosive gases, fumes, or mists can irritate or burn the
mucous membrane linings of the nose, throat, and respiratory
tract. When this happens, the body produces fluids to try
to protect the tissue. This can lead to a build-up of fluid
in the lungs (pulmonary edema), a life-threatening condition.
Many corrosives are toxic. They can get into your system
through inhalation, absorption through the skin, or ingestion.
Overexposure to toxic or highly toxic corrosives requires
medical attention and could lead to a life-threatening condition.
Know the physical hazards
Corrosives also have physical hazards that you need to
be aware of. Corrosives can be:
Reactive-they can react violently
with water or other substances. Some of these reactions can
be violent, generate heat, cause explosions, or cause enough
pressure build-up in a container to make it rupture.
Combustible or flammable-they can
easily ignite and burn. Acetic acid is one example.
Reactive with metals-they can become
explosive and produced highly-flammable hydrogen gas.
Oxidizers-they react when in contact with other chemicals creating
oxygen. This greatly increases the flammability hazard. Oxidizers
initiate or promote combustion in other materials. Nitric,
chromic, and perchloric acids are examples of corrosives that
are also oxidizers.