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Prudent Practices in the Laboratory: Handling and Disposal of Chemicals
Flammability and Explosibility
Sulfuric acid is noncombustible but can cause finely divided combustible substances to ignite. Sulfuric acid reacts with most metals, especially when dilute, to produce flammable and potentially explosive hydrogen gas.
Reactivity and Incompatibility
Concentrated sulfuric acid is stable, but may react violently with water and with many organic compounds because of its action as a powerful dehydrating, oxidizing, and sulfonating agent. Ignition or explosions may occur on contact of sulfuric acid with many metals, carbides, chlorates, perchlorates, permanganates, bases, and reducing agents. Sulfuric acid reacts with a number of substances to generate highly toxic products. Examples include the reaction of H2SO4 with formic or oxalic acid (CO formation), with cyanide salts (HCN formation), and sodium bromide (SO2 and Br2 formation).
Storage and Handling
Sulfuric acid should be handled in the laboratory using the ''basic prudent practices" described in Chapter 5.C. Splash goggles and rubber gloves should be worn when handling this acid, and containers of sulfuric acid should be stored in a well-ventilated location, separated from organic substances and other combustible materials. Containers of sulfuric acid should be stored in secondary plastic trays to avoid corrosion of metal storage shelves due to drips or spills. Water should never be added to sulfuric acid because splattering may result; always add acid to water.
In the event of skin contact, immediately wash with soap and water and remove contaminated clothing. In case of eye contact, promptly wash with copious amounts of water for 15 min (lifting upper and lower lids occasionally) and obtain medical attention. If sulfuric acid is ingested, obtain medical attention immediately. If large amounts of sulfuric acid mist are inhaled, move the person to fresh air and seek medical attention at once.
Carefully neutralize small spills of sulfuric acid with a suitable agent such as sodium carbonate, further dilute with absorbent material, place in an appropriate container, and dispose of properly. Respiratory protection may be necessary in the event of a large spill or release in a confined area.
Excess sulfuric acid and waste material containing this substance should be placed in an appropriate container, clearly labeled, and handled according to your institution's waste disposal guidelines. For more information on disposal procedures, see Chapter 7 of this volume.