In 2001, a hydrofluoric acid disaster happened in an industrial plant. A lab worker noticed a strange vibrating on a pump, so he took the elevator to the top floor to turn a handle that would let the liquid be recirculated in a new direction.
The liquid in question was 85% hydrofluoric acid under 185 psi. Despite stepping to one side for safety, he found himself drenched when the whole bonnet exploded in his hands.
What happened next he calls “four hours of hell”. Eyes wedged open so that they could be continuously washed out with calcium solution, tube forced down the throat, the works. Not to mention the fact that the hospital staff at first confused the stuff with hydrochloric acid, and did not know how to treat hydrofluoric.
In addition to being a horrible acid, hydrofluoric acid is also a contact poison. It seeps through your skin, and reacts with the calcium in your blood, which can cause a heart attack. It is also so nasty that it doesn’t just eat through metal, but also through glass. So high-pressured concentrated HF is about the definition of what would make a plant unsafe.
The victim has said that he has no beef with his employer who paid the medical and rehab bills and kept him on. That’s good to know. Still, it seems like there are some lessons to be learned – that if you are ever needing to work around something like that, full-face shield, goggles and protective clothing is essential.