I had an interesting day in the lab. I spilled a large amount of concentrated HCl on the floor!
I would’ve taken a picture of the damage zone, but my first thought was, “Oh shit!” not, “This would look good on my blog.”
HCl is the strongest acid used in most labs. If you’re familiar with the pH scale it goes from 1-14. Water is 7. Orange juice is 3 and stomach acid is 1.
Concentrated HCl is -1. the pH scale is a log scale so that means concentrated HCl is 100 times stronger than stomach acid.
HCl is used all the time in lab work, but often in a more dilute form. I had the concentrated stuff out so I could dilute a small amount of it in a large bottle of water.
I got the amount I needed and then I dropped the large bottle on the floor as I was putting it away. SPLOOSH! CRACK! Glass and acid everywhere!
It started eating away at the floor immediately, BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!
HCl is composed of Hydrogen (H) and Chlorine (Cl) in water. In concentrated HCl the acid is so smooshed together that it starts falling apart into its component parts of Hydrogen and Chlorine gas.
Chlorine is a deadly gas! Hurray! -_-
I closed off the room and put a warning sign on it before rushing upstairs to contact my PI (boss).
He came down and we agreed that we needed to call Environmental, Health, and Safety (EH&S). They’re the guys who handle spills in the lab that my labmates and I can’t deal with.
EH&S didn’t come by themselves though!
First five firemen came up. Two cops as well, but they left after I told them I wasn’t injured. Some of the acid got on my shoe but nothing serious.
The firefighters stuck around until EH&S arrived. Three people from EH&S came to assess the situation and after doing so they sent two more people to do the actual cleanup work.
So a small spill of a nasty chemical attracted a dozen emergency response personnel.
Meanwhile I took off my shoe just to be safe and am now wearing a bootie for the rest of the day.
The cleanup crew removed all the broken glass and chlorine gas as well as most of the acid that was still on the ground.
After they finished up I came in with Sodium Carbonate (grainy baking soda) to clean up the rest of the acid.
I still managed to work with the dilute acid I made, but what a day!