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Sulfuric Acid

What is sulfuric acid?

Sulfuric acid is a clear, colorless liquid. Sometimes the liquid is a brown color. Sulfuric acid is odorless. It is a reactive chemical and a dangerous explosion hazard.

Where is sulfuric acid found?

Sulfuric acid is the most widely used and produced industrial chemical in the United States.2 It is used in the chemical and metal plating industry. It is also used in printing, publishing or photography shops.

Sulfuric acid is used to make soaps, detergents, fertilizers and car batteries. It is also used to make textiles, explosives and pharmaceuticals. Battery acid is a common name for sulfuric acid.

How might I be exposed?

  • Working in an industry where sulfuric acid is used or produced
  • Breathing air near where coal, oil, or gas is burned
  • Touching the material that sometimes forms on the outside of a car battery

  • Breathing air near hazardous waste site that contains sulfuric acid or air from a spill or release incident

  • Having contact with toilet bowl cleaners

What will sulfuric acid do to me?

Inhalation can irritate the nose, throat and lungs. With higher exposures, fluid build-up in the lungs may occur. This is a medical emergency. Exposure can cause headache, nausea and vomiting. Repeated exposure can cause permanent lung damage, damage to teeth and upset stomach. Death from an acute exposure has occurred. In the workplace, exposure to mists containing sulfuric acid may contribute to cancer of the larynx.

Ingestion may cause bleeding, death of tissues and holes in the digestive tract. Damage to digestive tract is usually more severe in stomach and intestines than in the esophagus.

Contact with skin and eyes may cause burns and eye irritation that can lead to blindness.

Children may be more vulnerable to sulfuric acid.

How can I protect myself?

In the event of a spill or release,follow instructions given by emergency responders and local authorities (i.e. shelter in place, evacuation, etc.). Keep products out of reach of children. Keep products in original packaging. Follow precautions and instructions for handling the substance (i.e. lead-acid batteries contain sulfuric acid; follow vehicle or battery owners’ manual for precautions and safe handling procedures).

Emergency

In case of an emergency, contact your regional poison control center at 1-800-222-1222 or 911 emergency services for help.

First Aid

Note: effects of exposure (inhalation, ingestion, or skin contact) to substance may be delayed.

Inhalation: move to fresh air. Begin rescue breathing (using proper respiratory medical device) if breathing has stopped and CPR if heart has stopped. Get medical attention right away.

Skin contact: remove contaminated clothing. Immediately wash area of skin with large amounts of soap and water. Get medical attention right away.

Eye contact: remove excess chemical from face. Rinse the whites of eyes with water for at least 30 minutes, lifting upper and lower lids. If possible, remove contact lenses while rinsing. Get medical attention right away.

Ingestion: do not make person vomit. Call Oregon Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222 or seek medical attention immediately.

Where can I find more information?

  • Local health department
  • Oregon Poison Center: Phone 1-800-222-1222
  • Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, ToxFAQs™ for Sulfuric Acid (English and Spanish)
  • New Jersey Department of Health, Right to Know Hazardous Substance Fact Sheets (English and Spanish)
  • California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, Chronic Toxicity Summary for Sulfuric Acid 
  • U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, Emergency Response Guide Book (English and Spanish)