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Health and Environment

Hazards

Acute (Short-Term) Health Effects

  • Skin contact with hydrogen fluoride, or solutions containing more than 30% hydrogen fluoride, produces immediate pain. Reactions to more dilute solutions may be delayed for many hours. The accompanying pain is excruciating and persistent, and healing is delayed.
  • Contact with eyes may result in permanent eye damage.
  • Hydrofluoric acid is a poison by inhalation. If inhaled hydrofluoric acid can cause severe respiratory damage, including severe irritation of the nose, throat, and lungs and pulmonary edema (fluid build-up in the lungs). At concentrations of 30 parts per million (ppm) hydrofluoric acid is immediately dangerous to life and health.
  • Hydrofluoric acid inhalation may also damage the liver and kidneys.

Chronic (Long-Term) Health Effects

  • Hydrofluoric acid is not classified as a carcinogen due to lack of data. Increased rates of cancer have been observed in workers exposed to a mixture of chemicals that included fluoride, but no single chemical was identified as the cause of the cancer.
  • Hydrofluoric acid is a possible teratogen (reproductive hazard). Occupational studies of women exposed to fluoride identified increased rates of menstrual irregularities. Animal studies have also found that fluoride impairs reproduction and increases the rates of fetal bone and teeth malformation.
  • The chronic inhalation of hydrofluoric acid can cause irritation and congestion of the nose and throat and bronchitis. Animal studies have also found increased rates of kidney and liver damage from hydrofluoric acid inhalation.

Exposure Routes

Worker Health
Facilities using hydrofluoric acid must minimize worker exposure:

  • Use hydrofluoric acid in closed systems. If a closed production system is infeasible, enclose operations and use local exhaust ventilation. If hydrofluoric acid exposure may exceed 3 ppm, use a Mine Safety and Health Administration/National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health-approved supplied-air respirator with a full facepiece.
  • Take precautions to avoid hydrofluoric acid contact. If hydrofluoric acid contacts skin, wash immediately and get medical attention.

Public Health

  • The major sources of hydrofluoric acid are industrial facilities, aluminum smelters, coal-fired power plants, volcanoes, and dust that contain fluorspar (a naturally occurring mineral). Hydrofluoric acid is found at low levels ranging from 1.2 to 9.1 parts per billion in ambient air.

Endnotes:
Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), 1999, "Chemical Profile: Hydrofluoric Acid" (New York: EDF; see webpage: http:/www.scorecard.org/chemical-profiles/); Environmental Health Center (EHC is a division of the National Safety Council), 1997, "Environment Writer: Hydrogen Fluoride (Hydrofluoric Acid) (HF) Chemical Backgrounder" (Washington, D.C.: EHC; see webpage: http://www.nsc.org/ehc/ew/chems/hydrfluo.htm); Richard J. Lewis, Sr. (ed.), 1993, Hazardous Chemicals Desk Reference (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold); New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, 1998, "Hazardous Substance Face Sheet: Hydrogen Fluoride" (Trenton, New Jersey; see webpage: http://www.state.nj.us/health/eoh/rtkweb/rtkhsfs.htm); and U.S. EPA, Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards, 1998, "Hydrogen Fluoride (and Related Compounds)" (Washington, D.C.: U.S. EPA; see webpage: http://www.epa.gov/ttn/uatw/hlthef/hydrogen.html); Gosselin RE, Smith RP, Hodge HC, 1984, "Clinical Toxicology of Commercial Products", 5th edition, (Baltimore, MD: Williams & Wilkins).