What Are the Dangers of Acids and Alkalis?

Dr. Sharon Gwaltney-Brant explains on the Veterinary Support Personnel Network that acids typically cause pain upon exposure and produce localized coagulative necrosis of tissue. Alkaline products with a pH level above 11 are capable of causing serious corrosive injury.

Clinical signs mostly occur immediately upon exposure to acids, states Dr. Gwaltney-Brant. Ingestion of acids results in oral pain, vomiting with or without blood, dysphagia, abdominal pain, vocalization and irritation of oral and/or esophageal mucosa. Gastric ulceration occurs with high levels of exposure. Ulceration or dermal irritation also occurs with dermal exposure.

Alkaline products include ammonium hydroxide, sodium hydroxide, potassium hydroxide and potassium permanganate. Harmful alkaline agents generally cause liquefactive necrosis by penetrating local tissue quickly and deeply. However, unlike acidic products, exposure to an alkaline product causes little pain. Clinical signs do not develop immediately, often taking up to 12 hours for the tissue damage to become evident.

According to the BBC, concentrated sulfuric acid is very caustic and requires careful handling. Moreover, a concentrated solution of the alkali sodium hydroxide is also corrosive, and it is used for removing skin from bones to acquire skeletons. Dangerous acids and alkalis are generally stored in containers with hazard warning signs and are handled with gloves and goggles.