Fact Sheet for Sulfuric Acid
This fact sheet answers questions about sulfuric acid. For more information, call Oregon Hazardous Substance Incident Surveillance (HSIS) at 971-673-0977. In 2010, sulfuric acid was one of the ten most commonly spilled or released chemicals in Oregon.1
It is important to understand this information because sulfuric acid is a potentially dangerous substance. The harmful effects of this substance depend on several factors: your age, the amount and length of time of exposure, the exposure (you breathed it in or it got on your skin) and whether or not other chemicals are present.1
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.2
Contact with skin and eyes may cause burns and eye irritation that can lead to blindness.
Children may be more vulnerable to sulfuric acid.1
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).
In case of an emergency, contact your regional poison control center at 1-800-222-1222 or 911 emergency services for help.
Note: effects of exposure (inhalation, ingestion, or skin contact) to substance may be delayed.3
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.4 Call Oregon Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222 or seek medical attention immediately.
Where can I find more information?
Hazardous Substances Incident Surveillance program
Other sources of information include:
This document was supported by funds from the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) trust fund provided to the Oregon Health Authority under Cooperative Agreement #5U61/TS000130-02 from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
1Public Health Statement for Sulfuric Acid, Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry
2Poison Facts: High Chemicals: Sulfuric Acid. Poison Control Center, the University of Kansas
3Emergency Response Guide Book, U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration
4Oregon Poison Center, 2011