The world is full of amazing chemicals; many of which have the power to produce the kinds of things we, as humans, have come to rely on: plastics, building materials, paints… However, many of these chemicals are highly corrosive, toxic, carcinogenic or combustible; meaning we have to treat them with respect.
Thankfully, most companies are serious about chemical safety and store their materials safely. Spill containment controls and highly-qualified personnel; trained to know how to handle these chemicals, are all part and part of today’s responsible practices that ensure the handling risks are minimised.
But what are some of the most dangerous, common chemicals in the world, and what are the risks associated with them?
Ethanol makes this list because of its prevalence in industry – as a solvent, fuel, and even in thermometers – and because it has a low flash point, making it extremely flammable. At concentrations anywhere above 90 per cent, ethanol has a flash point of just 17 degrees Celsius – which is lower than the average room temperatures.
Another reason ethanol makes this list is because of its ability to intoxicate humans. Better known as alcohol, even ethanol fumes can make its handlers more than a bit wobbly.
Ammonia is a colourless gas with a pungent smell, most often used in fertiliser production. It is also used in cleaning products like oven cleaners. However, it’s highly corrosive and irritant to the skin – which, if applied to the areas of the body in large concentrations – can cause skin burns, permanent eye damage or blindness.
You’ll know when you come into range of ammonia because of its characteristic smell and its almost choke-like feeling in your chest.
While pure elemental chlorine is poisonous to most lifeforms on earth, including humans, it’s one of the most prevalent chemicals on the planet – and is even found in our table salt.
Chlorine’s ability to aggravate the respiratory system, as a gas, before causing fatal lung damage, led it to being used as a weaponised agent in several wars – including World War I.
Today it is used as water purification agent, like in swimming pools, in disinfectants and in bleach.
This chemical is one of the most acidic, corrosive materials that you do not want to be touched by. Even metal and stone can be burned by its caustic nature, so to apply it to skin will result in chemical burns, or permanent blindness – if they eyes come into contact with it.
Sulphuric acid is used as a highly acidic drain cleaner, in fertiliser manufacturing, oil refining, waste water processing and as an electrolyte in lead-acid batteries.
Found in the stomach of human beings, hydrochloric acid is a highly corrosive, strong mineral acid with several properties similar to those of sulphuric acid.
It is used in the chemical industry as part of the PVC and polyurethane manufacturing processes. Similarly, it is present in some household cleaners and descaling products.
Goggles, gloves and other personal protective equipment is also encouraged during its handling.