Nitric acid is a colorless liquid which can become yellowish or reddish over time in storage due to the build up of nitrogen oxides. It is a highly corrosive liquid, a strong oxidizer, a poison and has the capacity to dissolve most metalsThe most common use of nitric acid is in the production of nitrogen-based fertilizers.
Aside from being a main component in fertilizer production, nitric acid is also a very important component chemical in the manufacture of explosives, dyes, plastics, metallurgy and as a cleaning agent in food, dairy and brewing industries.
Nitric acid is such a very important chemical in many industries that although it is considered to be more dangerous than most chemicals in 6 out of 9 in the ranking systems, it is still produced in large volume and many of the people working in trades using nitric acid in its applications are put in occupational hazard. It is therefore important that safety information, proper handling training and other safety procedures are given to these workers.
Inhalation of nitric acid vapors may cause difficulty in breathing and, in fatal cases, may lead to pulmonary edema and pneumonia. Irritation of the nose, throat and respiratory tract, coughing and choking can be observed when someone accidentally inhales nitric acid vapors. Ingestion can also be very dangerous because of the corrosive property of nitric acid. It will cause instant burns and pains of the mouth, throat, esophagus and the rest of the gastrointestinal tract.
Nitric acid is an irritant and direct eye contact causes severe burns and may even result to permanent eye damage. Direct skin contact, on the other hand, causes pain, redness, and serious skin burns. Concentrated nitric acid solutions turn the skin yellow as a result of a reaction with keratin as well as ugly blisters.
Apart from these health effects, the chemical properties of nitric acid also require special and secure handling to prevent reactions with others chemicals which can result to increase in flammability of combustible materials, fires and explosions. Leakage and spilling can also cause corrosion and other accidents.
Workers should always wear protective clothing including chemical safety glasses and gloves. Gloves made from polyethylene, neoprene and butyl rubber are appropriate for handling up to 70% concentration of nitric acid solutions. Working area should also have good ventilation, more so when using concentrated form of the acid. Eye wash fountains and quick drench facilities must be within the direct vicinity of the work area.
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