Safe Use of Hydrofluoric Acid by Muhammad Akram

Hydrofluoric acid is one of the most hazardous chemicals used in research laboratories at Columbia University and elsewhere.  The actual users and first-responders are at the greatest risk of exposure to incidents involving releases and spills.  Gaseous hydrogen fluoride and hydrofluoric acid have nearly the same toxicological properties and can be considered interchangeable; the term “HF” is often used to denote either the gas or the liquid acid. 
HF interacts corrosively with a wide variety of materials, making it both useful and hazardous.  Most metals, natural rubber, rock, concrete, glass, fiberglass, ceramics and glazes are dissolved by HF.  HF does not attack metallic lead and platinum, and importantly for laboratory use and storage, polyethylene, polypropylene, Teflon, PLEXIGLAS (acrylic), or wax.
HF burns are unlike other acid burns, where injury is caused predominately by dissociated H+ ions.  HF readily penetrates skin, corroding soft tissue and bone.  Inhaled HF vapor/gas can cause delayed pulmonary edema.  Systemic HF poisoning removes Ca2+ from soft tissues and bones resulting in hypocalcaemia.  Ca2+ regulation is critical for normal cell function, neural transmission, bone integrity, blood coagulation and intracellular signaling.  Death following acute HF exposure is possible. Exposure to dilute solutions may not cause any pain on contact and may go undetected for hours, but delays in first aid/treatment of HF exposure result in painful, slow-to-heal burns and systemic HF poisoning.  Any skin contamination or vapor inhalation, therefore, must be taken seriously and treated as an emergency.
In case of skin contamination, immediately flood areas of exposure with copious amounts of water, followed by an application of calcium gluconate first aid gel, which must be on hand wherever HF is used.  Seek medical help immediately.

The only place to work with HF safely is in a properly functioning chemical fume hood.  Procedures involving even small quantities of dilute HF solutions must not be performed on an open laboratory bench. Prevent contamination by using plastic trays or bench paper on work surfaces before starting HF procedures. Always use a lab coat and/or acid resistant coverall/apron, gloves and goggles. Make sure you have received HF Safety training before use, and consult the HF policy on EH&S website (, or call if you have any question

Recent EPA @Nevis Inspection by Hazardous Materials team

EH&S would like to congratulate Nevis on a successful inspection by EPA on February 2, 2012. EPA arrived at Nevis unannounced with the intention of inspecting the campus’         hazardous waste and universal waste management practices.  Nevis leadership immediately    contacted EH&S when EPA arrived and 3 EH&S professionals were deployed to liaison with the EPA inspector.  After a very brief inspection, for which no findings were documented or recommendations offered, EPA departed.  This should serve as a reminder that EPA (or any other regulatory agency) can make an unannounced inspection at any time and we must remain vigilant in our efforts to maintain a high level of compliance at all times.  Keep up the strong waste management practices!

We would also like to remind everyone of the training and education programs are essential to ensuring that the regulatory requirements for hazardous materials are easily understood and applied in a consistent manner. Please visit for EH&S training requirements

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