Chapter 7: Corrosive Chemicals and Allergens

Revised January 2023

Corrosive Chemicals and Allergens

Corrosive chemicals cause destruction of tissue through chemical action at the point of contact. Corrosive chemicals can be liquids, solids, or gases; consequently, corrosive chemicals can affect the skin, eyes, and respiratory tract. Examples of corrosive chemicals include: liquids such as acids and bases, bromine, and hydrogen peroxide; gases such as chlorine and ammonia; and solids such as phosphorous and phenol.

Exposure to a chemical allergen can result in immunological sensitization to the chemical or close structural analogs. Once sensitization to a chemical occurs, subsequent exposure to extremely low doses of the chemical produces an allergic reaction (for example, skin rash or asthma). Examples of compounds that may cause sensitization in some individuals are diazomethane, various isocyanates, formaldehyde, and benzylic and allylic halides.

  • Avoid skin contact with chemicals considered to be corrosive or a skin sensitizer.
    • When possible, use mechanical means to handle or transfer these chemicals in order to minimize the likelihood of exposure. Examples include the use of automatic pipettors and other dispensing systems that minimize hands-on contact to replace pouring and other manipulations.
    • Use gloves and other personal protective clothing (lab apron or coat) known to be resistant to permeation and degradation by the chemical. Check gloves and protective clothing for holes.
  • Use a properly functioning laboratory hood when handling concentrated acids and bases, or other chemicals that can form mists upon contact with air (often referred to as “fuming”).
  • Wear safety eye wear when handling these chemicals, with chemical safety goggles being recommended unless there is very low risk of eye contact (see Chapter 13).
    • Wear a face shield in addition to goggles when there is a likelihood of splash or spray.

Hydrofluoric Acid

Hydrofluoric acid is highly corrosive to body tissue, even in dilute solutions, and higher exposures can produce serious systemic toxicity. Burns involving greater than 25 square inches have the potential to cause serious system toxicity or death due to hypocalcemia. Avoid exposure to HF by all routes. Personnel using hydrofluoric acid must be specifically trained prior to use, and special work practices must be implemented to prevent exposure to HF (consult the University Chemical Hygiene Officer for assistance). Users of HF should consult the web links below for additional information. Always seek immediate medical attention if skin contact, eye contact, or inhalation occurs.

Note: EH&S provides calcium gluconate gel upon request (while supplies last) for first aid treatment of hydrofluoric acid skin burns.

The following documents provide additional information on hydrofluoric acid:

Chapter 8: Cryogenic Liquids and Compressed Gases