Safely Handling Hydrogen Chloride

Hydrogen Chloride

HCl is used in many industries and for many different reasons. For example, Hydrogen chloride is used to clean, pickle, and electroplate metals. It’s also used to tan leather and is used in producing many different kinds of products. It is also used for: 

  • Refining mineral ores 
  • Petroleum well extraction 
  • Refining fats, soaps, and edible oils 
  • Producing polymers, rubber, fertilizers, dyes, and pigments 
  • In the creation of chemicals used for cleaning and disinfecting swimming pools 

In its gaseous form, HCl is known as Hydrogen chloride. When dissolved in water, HCl becomes hydrochloric acid, which can be notated as HCl(aq), meaning that it is in an aqueous state.  

Because it is a critical component in so many products and applications, it’s important to know how to safely handle Hydrogen chloride. 

The Dangers of Hydrogen Chloride 

Hydrogen chloride, which is also known by the abbreviation HCl, is a gas that is colorless to slightly yellow in color. It has a pungent odor, and can irritate the skin, nose, eyes, throat, and larynx, and can even cause frostbite during exposure. 

High concentrations of hydrogen chloride can lead to corrosive injuries of any exposed tissue and HCl presents a particular cause for concern when inhaled or ingested. If inhaled, hydrogen chloride can result in irritation of the upper respiratory tract, even causing laryngeal edema, laryngeal spasms, and asphyxia. When ingested, it can cause severe corrosive injuries to the mouth, throat, esophagus, and stomach.  

Exposure to HCl can cause Reactive Airway Dysfunction Syndrome, or RADS, which is a chemical or irritant-induced type of asthma. Children may be more vulnerable to the corrosive agent because of the smaller diameter of their airways, their higher metabolic rates, and their larger surface-area-to-body-weight ratios. 

Hydrogen chloride can be dangerous if not handled properly, but its uses are vast, making safe handling and application critical.  

Safe Handling and Storage of HCl 

Since Hydrogen chloride poses such a serious risk in the event of exposure, it must be handled appropriately at all times. Some examples of workers at risk of exposure include: 

  • Chemical workers in plants that use HCl to produce other chemicals 
  • Factory workers who work in plants or facilities where metals are pickled 
  • Workers in food processing plants 
  • Factory workers who are employed in the rubber and textile industries 
  • Factory workers who manufacture fertilizers and dyes 

Those handling Hydrogen chloride or working in proximity with HCl should take all the proper precautions, including wearing appropriate personal protective equipment, and approach Hydrogen chloride with the understanding that gas is stored under pressure. Hydrogen chloride should always be stored in accordance with local regulations and in a separate, approved area away from direct sunlight and be kept cool, dry, and well-ventilated. HCl should be stored using process enclosures, with local exhaust ventilation or other engineering controls in place to limit workplace exposure to airborne contaminants.  

Cylinders of HCl should always be stored upright with a valve protection cap securely in place to avoid any kind of accident. These cylinders should be locked up, with containers tightly closed and sealed until ready for use.  

Personal Protective Equipment for Hydrogen Chloride 

There are all kinds of personal protective equipment (PPE) recommendations regarding HCl. When handling Hydrogen chloride, users should don the following PPE—all of which should be rated for use with HCl: 

  • Safety eyewear to avoid exposure to liquid splashes, airborne particles, gases, or dust 
  • Chemical-resistant, impervious gloves 
  • Body protection recommended based on the task being performed to protect the skin 
  • Appropriate footwear that limits exposure and is safe for use in the environment 

Based on the potential risk of exposure, those handling HCl should also don a respirator that meets the appropriate standard or certification. These respirators should be used in accordance with a respiratory protection program to ensure a proper fit, training, and all other aspects of use. Plus, the right respirator should be selected based on anticipated potential exposure levels and the safe working limits of the chosen respirator.  

Handling Hydrogen Chloride 

Those working with HCl should be sure not to puncture or incinerate any containers, and all equipment should be rated for cylinder pressure. Valves should always be closed after each use, and when empty.  

When working with cylinders of HCl, they should be protected from physical damage, which means cylinders should be transported using a suitable hand truck, and never dragged, rolled, slid, or dropped. It’s important to note that even seemingly “empty” containers can contain product residue and are hazardous.  

There should be no eating, drinking, or smoking in any areas where Hydrogen chloride is handled, and workers should wash their hands and face before eating, drinking, or smoking. Even clothing and PPE potentially contaminated with HCl should be removed before entering areas where people eat, smoke, or drink. 

In the Event of Exposure 

Workers exposed to HCl should seek appropriate medical care immediately, which should be conducted with caution since aqueous HCl can cause secondary contamination to those who are treating them.  

Victims exposed only to Hydrogen chloride gas and whose skin and clothing appear dry do not pose the same risk of secondary contamination. Those who have been exposed to hydrochloric acid or aqueous HCl should go through a decontamination process before receiving any further medical care.  

Decontamination consists of removing clothing while flushing the exposed skin with water for 3 to 5 minutes, then thoroughly washing with soap and water. Those who have ingested HCl should not induce emesis or vomiting or ingest activated charcoal, but those who are conscious and able to do so should ingest 4 to 8 ounces of milk or water.   

Currently, there is no antidote for HCl poisoning or exposure. Treatment consists of support for the respiratory and cardiovascular functions.   

In the event of exposure: 

  • For eye exposure, immediately flush eyes with water for 30 minutes, removing contacts if they are worn and lifting the upper and lower lids, then seek immediate medical attention. 
  • For inhalation, remove the person from exposure, then begin CPR if breathing and heart function has stopped. Medical observation for 24 to 48 hours is recommended, as inhalation of HCl can cause delayed pulmonary edema. 
  • For skin exposure, immediately remove contaminated clothing and wash skin with large amounts of water, then immerse affected skin in warm water. Seek medical attention right away. 

Airgas Specialty Products: Your Safe, Quality HCl Supplier 

Airgas Specialty Products is the country’s leading supplier of anhydrous Hydrogen chloride, and has been supplying HCl gas at various grades for over 20 years.  

Whether you need technical-grade HCl for chemical production, or electronic-grade HCl for the pharmaceutical industry, we can be your trusted supplier of HCl exactly when you need it. To learn more about our safety protocols or hear more about how we can support your Hydrogen chloride needs, contact us today.