announcement

Share facts or photos of intriguing scientific phenomena.

Sodium Hydroxide Hazards

Sodium Hydroxide Hazards

Sodium hydroxide, one of the most toxic alkaline chemicals needs to be handled with safety. The hazards of this compound are many, and it can be lethal for the body.
Kundan Pandey
Last Updated: Dec 09, 2017
Although, there are numerous uses of sodium hydroxide, it has several potential hazards, if it is used without care and safety. For the human body, especially skin, eyes, and respiratory system, sodium hydroxide can be extremely dangerous. Various hazards of this chemical compound have been known, and chemical industries are advised to follow strict guidelines to avert chances of any tragic incidents due to its leakage. The formula for sodium hydroxide is NaOH.
NaOH Hazards

The strongest base, sodium hydroxide, also known as Lye or Caustic Soda, finds extensive applications in our daily lives. Sodium hydroxide is used in the manufacturing of soaps, cotton, rayon, petroleum, natural gas, and vegetable refining. Since it is used extensively, this white and odorless, non volatile aqueous solution can be very poisonous for the skin, and deadly if ingested. Owing to its extreme reactivity, NaOH is corrosive in nature. It has to be handled with extreme care, as even a small carelessness in its storage can lead to dangerous consequences.
  • When swallowed or ingested, lye can be very dangerous, and can irritate the respiratory tract lining. The severity of the hazards can be understood by the fact that it causes burns and inflammation in the organs, if it passes through them.
  • If NaOH is ingested orally, it can lead to severe burns inside the mouth. Moreover, passage of NaOH can affect throat and other body parts like the stomach.
  • Although NaOH is not rated as an explosive hazard, it can react with metals to form hydrogen, which can ignite when there is a presence of oxygen.
  • Owing to its poisonous affects, it can also cause bleeding, vomiting, and diarrhea. Intake of NaOH has also been related to low blood pressure.
  • Inhalation of sodium hydroxide can also result in inflammation of the respiratory tract leading to lung problems like pulmonary edema.
  • Fever, sneezing, runny nose, sore throat, and pneumonia are some of the severe consequences of coming in contact with this chemical.
  • Ulceration and scarring of skin are some of the most commonly observed hazards of NaOH. This chemical is very corrosive, and it has the ability to destroy deeper layers of the skin.
  • Although it is not flammable, it can ignite combustible substances that come in contact with it. Hence, it is always better to keep such substances away from it.
  • Not just our skin but NaOH corrodes even wooden floors and painted surfaces.
  • Eyes can be damaged if they're exposed to sodium hydroxide, and cause severe cases of glaucoma, cataract, and permanent blindness are highly possible.
  • Any sort of constant exposure to NaOH, even in small amounts, can lead to acute respiratory problems.
  • Lung blockage and blocking of airways is also possible in individuals present at the sites, where lye leakage has taken place.
Sodium Hydroxide Safety Precautions
  • Chemical companies must ensure that all safety guidelines regarding storage and transportation of NaOH are followed, as per the safety standards.
  • Any leakages in carrying containers must be reported immediately to the authorities.
  • Workers in chemical plants must use all safety measures while dealing with this compound.
  • Proper ventilation is a must in factories and working areas where NaOH is used.
  • If it has been swallowed, the mouth must be rinsed with one or two glasses of milk or water, and the person must drink at least two glasses of water, to decrease the chances of vomiting. Meanwhile, medical intervention is necessary.
  • In cases of eye contact, eyes must be flushed with water for at least 20 minutes.
  • When in contact with the skin, the contaminated clothing must be removed. The affected skin area can be washed with water and soap. Immediate medical intervention is also important in this case.
It is good to remember that prevention is always better than cure, and hence it is advisable to wear safety goggles, gloves, lab aprons, long sleeved shirts, and guards while handling NaOH. Any case of individual(s) experiencing issues related to the above-mentioned hazards, they must immediately refer to the concerned authorities, and people must be taken away from areas where the spill or leakage has occurred.
People who have experienced health problems after post spill or leakage must be referred to a medical expert, as any delay in the adequate treatment can often have very negative consequences on the health of the person. Since NaOH is an integral component of many products, its usage can't be neglected totally, but by taking adequate safety measures, certain disasters can be avoided to a great extent.