University Safety and Assurances

Hydrofluoric Acid Safety


Hydrofluoric Acid Information

Hydrofluoric Acid (HF) is one of the strongest and most corrosive acids known. Therefore, special safety precautions are necessary when using this chemical. HF is used in a variety of applications including glass etching, pickling of stainless steel, removal of sand and scale from foundry castings and as a laboratory reagent. Anyone using HF should implement the following safety measures. Most importantly, do not assume that dilute solutions do not require special precautions!

  1. Read the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for the product or reagent that contains Hydrofluoric Acid. Be sure it is the MSDS for the specific formula you are using. Call the supplier for additional information if necessary.
  2. Have a standard operating procedure (SOP) for your particular operations, safety precautions, emergency procedures, and waste disposal involving HF and train all that work with or around HF so they are aware of procedures before use.  A HF template is available to assist with generating a SOP.
  3. Be sure that you are using personal protective equipment that has been shown to effectively protect against Hydrofluoric Acid exposure. Always double check your personal protective equipment before each use of HF. A pinhole in a glove or leaky container can cause an accident you really want to avoid at all costs. HF burns penetrate deeply into skin and muscle tissue and can't be treated by simply flushing the area with water.
  4. Before using Hydrofluoric Acid, be sure you have a clear idea of what you will do in the event of a skin exposure, eye exposure, etc. involving Hydrofluoric Acid. First aid and medical treatment for HF exposure is very specific and critical.  Be sure to have Calcium Gluconate on hand. The special nature of the reaction of the fluoride ion with calcium in human tissue requires immediate, often heroic measures to save digits, limbs and even lives. The HF Acid website is a good source of information on working safely with HF, including proper personal protective equipment while using HF, information of storage, handling and processing and "Recommended Medical Treatment for Hydrofluoric Acid Exposure" (Honeywell).

    It is highly recommend that you contact your first aid or emergency medical provider to assess whether they are knowledgeable about and equipped to handle Hydrofluoric Acid-related incidents.

  5. Also, before using Hydrofluoric Acid, you should review what you would do in response to a leak or spill. Some conventional spill cleanup materials are readily dissolved by Hydrofluoric Acid. Special materials are needed to clean up Hydrofluoric Acid spills. After hours, it may be necessary to ask the University Police (campus phone 9-911 or cell 414-229-9911) to have the Milwaukee HazMat Team respond to a spill.
  6. Be sure that you know how to neutralize Hydrofluoric Acid waste. If your Hydrofluoric Acid acid waste is going to be contaminated with any other hazardous materials (heavy metals, for example), contact staff in UWM's Environmental Protection Program  (phone: x6339) before generating the waste. By consulting with the program manager, the generation of hazardous wastes can be reduced both to protect the environment and to conserve limited waste disposal funds.
For further information, contact your professor, supervisor, principal investigator or Environmental Protection staff (x6339).