The University of Iowa

Hydrofluoric Acid

The purpose of this hydrofluoric acid (HF) specific chemical safety guidance is to provide basic safety information for researchers who handle HF in research labs. This safety guidance describes injury prevention, personal protective equipment (PPE), engineering controls, spill cleanup, and waste disposal. Also, this guidance provides recommendations for risk reduction via inventory reduction, prudent safety practices, and training. This guidance is applicable to HF-handling research labs including the central microscopy facility, micro/nanofabrication facility, inorganic sample preparation labs, and other work areas where glass, metal or enamel artwork may be performed by HF frosting techniques. 

HF is a unique inorganic acid. The major route of occupational exposure in research labs is skin contact with HF solution or droplets. The fluoride ions are very rapidly absorbed through the skin and eyes and cause systemic toxicity. HF progressively releases fluoride ions and the ‘free fluoride ions’ penetrate and spread into the deepest tissues, resulting in liquefactive necrosis (also known as colliquative necrosis, tissue death that liquefies the affected cells), hypocalcaemia (low calcium levels), hypomagnesaemia (low magnesium levels), and hyperkalemia (high potassium levels). The liquefactive necrosis mechanism differentiates HF from other strong acids which cause damage via the ‘free hydrogen ions’, thus causing coagulation necrosis with precipitation of the tissue proteins. Guidelines for the management of cutaneous, inhalation, ingestion, and ophthalmic burns from HF exposures are described by Hatzifotis, et al (2004). Injury and illness prevention is the most significant part of HF management in research labs because internal damage can occur before symptoms appear.

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Hydrofluoric Acid Safety Guidance