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Corrosive

Corrosive

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A corrosive substance is one that will destroy or irreversibly damage another surface or substance with which it comes into contact. The main hazards to people include damage to the eyes, the skin, and the tissue
Tissue (biology)
Tissue is a cellular organizational level intermediate between cells and a complete organism. A tissue is an ensemble of cells, not necessarily identical, but from the same origin, that together carry out a specific function. These are called tissues because of their identical functioning...

 under the skin; inhalation or ingestion of a corrosive substance can damage the respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts. Exposure results in chemical burn
Chemical burn
A chemical burn occurs when living tissue is exposed to a corrosive substance such as a strong acid or base. Chemical burns follow standard burn classification and may cause extensive tissue damage. The main types of irritant and/or corrosive products are: acids, bases, oxidizers, solvents,...

.

Terms


The word 'corrosion' is derived from the Latin verb corrodere which means 'to gnaw' indicating how these substances seem to 'gnaw' their way through the flesh. Sometimes the word 'caustic' is used as a synonym but, by convention, 'caustic' generally refers only to strong bases, particularly alkali
Alkali
In chemistry, an alkali is a basic, ionic salt of an alkali metal or alkaline earth metal element. Some authors also define an alkali as a base that dissolves in water. A solution of a soluble base has a pH greater than 7. The adjective alkaline is commonly used in English as a synonym for base,...

s, and not to acids, oxidizers, or other non-alkaline corrosives. The term 'acid' is often used imprecisely for all corrosives.

A low concentration of a corrosive substance is usually an irritant
Irritation
Irritation or exacerbation, in biology and physiology, is a state of inflammation or painful reaction to allergy or cell-lining damage. A stimulus or agent which induces the state of irritation is an irritant...

. Corrosion
Corrosion
Corrosion is the disintegration of an engineered material into its constituent atoms due to chemical reactions with its surroundings. In the most common use of the word, this means electrochemical oxidation of metals in reaction with an oxidant such as oxygen...

 of non-living surfaces such as metals is a distinct process. For example, a water/air electrochemical cell corrodes iron
Iron
Iron is a chemical element with the symbol Fe and atomic number 26. It is a metal in the first transition series. It is the most common element forming the planet Earth as a whole, forming much of Earth's outer and inner core. It is the fourth most common element in the Earth's crust...

 to rust
Rust
Rust is a general term for a series of iron oxides. In colloquial usage, the term is applied to red oxides, formed by the reaction of iron and oxygen in the presence of water or air moisture...

. In the Globally Harmonized System
Globally Harmonized System
The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals or GHS is an internationally agreed upon system, created by the United Nations. It is designed to replace the various classification and labeling standards used in different countries by using consistent criteria for...

, both rapid corrosion
Corrosion
Corrosion is the disintegration of an engineered material into its constituent atoms due to chemical reactions with its surroundings. In the most common use of the word, this means electrochemical oxidation of metals in reaction with an oxidant such as oxygen...

 of metals and chemical corrosion of skin qualify for the "corrosive" symbol.

Corrosives are different from poisons in that corrosives are immediately dangerous to the tissues they contact, whereas poisons may have systemic toxic effects that require time to become evident. Colloquially, corrosives may be called "poisons" but the concepts are technically distinct. However, there is nothing which precludes a corrosive from being a poison; there are substances that are both corrosives and poisons.

Corrosivity


Common corrosives are strong acid
Strong acid
A strong acid is an acid that ionizes completely in an aqueous solution by losing one proton, according to the equationFor sulfuric acid which is diprotic, the "strong acid" designation refers only to dissociation of the first protonMore precisely, the acid must be stronger in aqueous solution than...

s and strong bases, or concentrated solutions of certain weak acid
Weak acid
A weak acid is an acid that dissociates incompletely. It does not release all of its hydrogens in a solution, donating only a partial amount of its protons to the solution...

s and weak base
Weak base
In chemistry, a weak base is a chemical base that does not ionize fully in an aqueous solution. As Brønsted–Lowry bases are proton acceptors, a weak base may also be defined as a chemical base in which protonation is incomplete. This results in a relatively low pH compared to strong bases...

s. Their action on living tissue is based on acid-base catalysis of ester and amide hydrolysis. Both corrosive acids and corrosive bases are able to destroy skin by catalyzing the hydrolysis of fats, which are chemically ester
Ester
Esters are chemical compounds derived by reacting an oxoacid with a hydroxyl compound such as an alcohol or phenol. Esters are usually derived from an inorganic acid or organic acid in which at least one -OH group is replaced by an -O-alkyl group, and most commonly from carboxylic acids and...

s. Proteins are chemically amide
Amide
In chemistry, an amide is an organic compound that contains the functional group consisting of a carbonyl group linked to a nitrogen atom . The term refers both to a class of compounds and a functional group within those compounds. The term amide also refers to deprotonated form of ammonia or an...

s, which can also be hydrolyzed by acid-base catalysis. Strong acids and bases denature protein
Denaturation (biochemistry)
Denaturation is a process in which proteins or nucleic acids lose their tertiary structure and secondary structure by application of some external stress or compound, such as a strong acid or base, a concentrated inorganic salt, an organic solvent , or heat...

s and also hydrate easily. Hydration removes water
Water
Water is a chemical substance with the chemical formula H2O. A water molecule contains one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms connected by covalent bonds. Water is a liquid at ambient conditions, but it often co-exists on Earth with its solid state, ice, and gaseous state . Water also exists in a...

 from the tissue and is significantly exothermic
Exothermic
In thermodynamics, the term exothermic describes a process or reaction that releases energy from the system, usually in the form of heat, but also in the form of light , electricity , or sound...

. For example, concentrated sulfuric acid
Sulfuric acid
Sulfuric acid is a strong mineral acid with the molecular formula . Its historical name is oil of vitriol. Pure sulfuric acid is a highly corrosive, colorless, viscous liquid. The salts of sulfuric acid are called sulfates...

 causes thermal burns in addition to chemical burns. Strong oxidizing agents, such as concentrated hydrogen peroxide
Hydrogen peroxide
Hydrogen peroxide is the simplest peroxide and an oxidizer. Hydrogen peroxide is a clear liquid, slightly more viscous than water. In dilute solution, it appears colorless. With its oxidizing properties, hydrogen peroxide is often used as a bleach or cleaning agent...

, can also be corrosive to tissues and other materials, even when the pH
PH
In chemistry, pH is a measure of the acidity or basicity of an aqueous solution. Pure water is said to be neutral, with a pH close to 7.0 at . Solutions with a pH less than 7 are said to be acidic and solutions with a pH greater than 7 are basic or alkaline...

 is close to neutral. Nitric acid
Nitric acid
Nitric acid , also known as aqua fortis and spirit of nitre, is a highly corrosive and toxic strong acid.Colorless when pure, older samples tend to acquire a yellow cast due to the accumulation of oxides of nitrogen. If the solution contains more than 86% nitric acid, it is referred to as fuming...

 is an example of a strong acid that is also a strong oxidizer, making it significantly more corrosive than one would expect from its pKa alone.

There are also more specific corrosives. Hydrofluoric acid
Hydrofluoric acid
Hydrofluoric acid is a solution of hydrogen fluoride in water. It is a valued source of fluorine and is the precursor to numerous pharmaceuticals such as fluoxetine and diverse materials such as PTFE ....

, for example, is initially painless in lower concentrations and technically a weak acid, but it produces fluoride
Fluoride
Fluoride is the anion F−, the reduced form of fluorine when as an ion and when bonded to another element. Both organofluorine compounds and inorganic fluorine containing compounds are called fluorides. Fluoride, like other halides, is a monovalent ion . Its compounds often have properties that are...

 ions (the actual corrosive species) after the acid is painlessly absorbed. Although zinc chloride
Zinc chloride
Zinc chloride is the name of chemical compound with the formula ZnCl2 and its hydrates. Zinc chlorides, of which nine crystalline forms are known, are colorless or white, and are highly soluble in water. ZnCl2 itself is hygroscopic and even deliquescent. Samples should therefore be protected from...

 solutions are also regularly acid
Acid
An acid is a substance which reacts with a base. Commonly, acids can be identified as tasting sour, reacting with metals such as calcium, and bases like sodium carbonate. Aqueous acids have a pH of less than 7, where an acid of lower pH is typically stronger, and turn blue litmus paper red...

ic (by the Brønsted definition), the zinc cation also specifically attacks hydroxyl groups as a Lewis acid
Lewis acid
]The term Lewis acid refers to a definition of acid published by Gilbert N. Lewis in 1923, specifically: An acid substance is one which can employ a lone pair from another molecule in completing the stable group of one of its own atoms. Thus, H+ is a Lewis acid, since it can accept a lone pair,...

. This explains the ability of zinc chloride solutions to react with cellulose
Cellulose
Cellulose is an organic compound with the formula , a polysaccharide consisting of a linear chain of several hundred to over ten thousand β linked D-glucose units....

 and corrode through paper and silk.

Common types of corrosive substances



Common corrosive chemicals are classified into:
  • Acid
    Acid
    An acid is a substance which reacts with a base. Commonly, acids can be identified as tasting sour, reacting with metals such as calcium, and bases like sodium carbonate. Aqueous acids have a pH of less than 7, where an acid of lower pH is typically stronger, and turn blue litmus paper red...

    s
  • Strong acid
    Strong acid
    A strong acid is an acid that ionizes completely in an aqueous solution by losing one proton, according to the equationFor sulfuric acid which is diprotic, the "strong acid" designation refers only to dissociation of the first protonMore precisely, the acid must be stronger in aqueous solution than...

    s — the most common are sulfuric acid
    Sulfuric acid
    Sulfuric acid is a strong mineral acid with the molecular formula . Its historical name is oil of vitriol. Pure sulfuric acid is a highly corrosive, colorless, viscous liquid. The salts of sulfuric acid are called sulfates...

    , nitric acid
    Nitric acid
    Nitric acid , also known as aqua fortis and spirit of nitre, is a highly corrosive and toxic strong acid.Colorless when pure, older samples tend to acquire a yellow cast due to the accumulation of oxides of nitrogen. If the solution contains more than 86% nitric acid, it is referred to as fuming...

     and hydrochloric acid
    Hydrochloric acid
    Hydrochloric acid is a solution of hydrogen chloride in water, that is a highly corrosive, strong mineral acid with many industrial uses. It is found naturally in gastric acid....

     (H2SO4, HNO3 and HCl, respectively).
  • Some concentrated weak acid
    Weak acid
    A weak acid is an acid that dissociates incompletely. It does not release all of its hydrogens in a solution, donating only a partial amount of its protons to the solution...

    s, for example formic acid
    Formic acid
    Formic acid is the simplest carboxylic acid. Its chemical formula is HCOOH or HCO2H. It is an important intermediate in chemical synthesis and occurs naturally, most notably in the venom of bee and ant stings. In fact, its name comes from the Latin word for ant, formica, referring to its early...

     and acetic acid
    Acetic acid
    Acetic acid is an organic compound with the chemical formula CH3CO2H . It is a colourless liquid that when undiluted is also called glacial acetic acid. Acetic acid is the main component of vinegar , and has a distinctive sour taste and pungent smell...

  • Strong Lewis acid
    Lewis acid
    ]The term Lewis acid refers to a definition of acid published by Gilbert N. Lewis in 1923, specifically: An acid substance is one which can employ a lone pair from another molecule in completing the stable group of one of its own atoms. Thus, H+ is a Lewis acid, since it can accept a lone pair,...

    s such as anhydrous aluminum chloride and boron trifluoride
    Boron trifluoride
    Boron trifluoride is the chemical compound with the formula BF3. This pungent colourless toxic gas forms white fumes in moist air. It is a useful Lewis acid and a versatile building block for other boron compounds.-Structure and bonding:...

  • Lewis acid
    Lewis acid
    ]The term Lewis acid refers to a definition of acid published by Gilbert N. Lewis in 1923, specifically: An acid substance is one which can employ a lone pair from another molecule in completing the stable group of one of its own atoms. Thus, H+ is a Lewis acid, since it can accept a lone pair,...

    s with specific reactivity, e.g. solutions of zinc chloride
    Zinc chloride
    Zinc chloride is the name of chemical compound with the formula ZnCl2 and its hydrates. Zinc chlorides, of which nine crystalline forms are known, are colorless or white, and are highly soluble in water. ZnCl2 itself is hygroscopic and even deliquescent. Samples should therefore be protected from...

  • Bases
    Base (chemistry)
    For the term in genetics, see base A base in chemistry is a substance that can accept hydrogen ions or more generally, donate electron pairs. A soluble base is referred to as an alkali if it contains and releases hydroxide ions quantitatively...

  • Caustics or alkalis, such as sodium hydroxide (NaOH) and potassium hydroxide
    Potassium hydroxide
    Potassium hydroxide is an inorganic compound with the formula KOH, commonly called caustic potash.Along with sodium hydroxide , this colorless solid is a prototypical strong base. It has many industrial and niche applications. Most applications exploit its reactivity toward acids and its corrosive...

     (KOH)
  • Alkali metals in the metallic form (e.g. elemental sodium
    Sodium
    Sodium is a chemical element with the symbol Na and atomic number 11. It is a soft, silvery-white, highly reactive metal and is a member of the alkali metals; its only stable isotope is 23Na. It is an abundant element that exists in numerous minerals, most commonly as sodium chloride...

    ), and hydrides of alkali and alkaline earth metal
    Alkaline earth metal
    The alkaline earth metals are a group in the periodic table. In the modern IUPAC nomenclature, the alkaline earth metals are called the group 2 elements. Previously, they were called the Group IIA elements . The alkaline earth metals contain beryllium , magnesium , calcium , strontium , barium and...

    s, such as sodium hydride
    Sodium hydride
    Sodium hydride is the chemical compound with the empirical formula NaH. It is primarily used as a strong base in organic synthesis. NaH is representative of the saline hydrides, meaning it is a salt-like hydride, composed of Na+ and H− ions, in contrast to the more molecular hydrides such as...

    , function as strong bases and hydrate to give caustics
  • Extremely strong bases (superbase
    Superbase
    In chemistry, a superbase is an extremely strong base, that is a compound that has a high affinity for protons. Hydroxide ion is the strongest base possible in aqueous solutions, but bases exist with pKb's well outside of the aqueous range. Such bases are valuable in organic synthesis and are...

    s) such as alkoxide
    Alkoxide
    An alkoxide is the conjugate base of an alcohol and therefore consists of an organic group bonded to a negatively charged oxygen atom. They can be written as RO−, where R is the organic substituent. Alkoxides are strong bases and, when R is not bulky, good nucleophiles and good ligands...

    s, metal amides (e.g. sodium amide
    Sodium amide
    Sodium amide, commonly called sodamide, is the chemical compound with the formula NaNH2. This solid, which is dangerously reactive toward water, is white when pure, but commercial samples are typically gray due to the presence of small quantities of metallic iron from the manufacturing process...

    ) and organometallic bases such as butyllithium
  • Some concentrated weak bases, such as ammonia
    Ammonia
    Ammonia is a compound of nitrogen and hydrogen with the formula . It is a colourless gas with a characteristic pungent odour. Ammonia contributes significantly to the nutritional needs of terrestrial organisms by serving as a precursor to food and fertilizers. Ammonia, either directly or...

     when anhydrous or in a concentrated solution
  • Dehydrating agents such as phosphorus pentoxide
    Phosphorus pentoxide
    Phosphorus pentoxide is a chemical compound with molecular formula P4O10 . This white crystalline solid is the anhydride of phosphoric acid. It is a powerful desiccant.-Structure:...

    , calcium oxide
    Calcium oxide
    Calcium oxide , commonly known as quicklime or burnt lime, is a widely used chemical compound. It is a white, caustic, alkaline crystalline solid at room temperature....

    , anhydrous zinc chloride
    Zinc chloride
    Zinc chloride is the name of chemical compound with the formula ZnCl2 and its hydrates. Zinc chlorides, of which nine crystalline forms are known, are colorless or white, and are highly soluble in water. ZnCl2 itself is hygroscopic and even deliquescent. Samples should therefore be protected from...

    , also elemental alkali metals
  • Strong oxidizers such as concentrated hydrogen peroxide
    Hydrogen peroxide
    Hydrogen peroxide is the simplest peroxide and an oxidizer. Hydrogen peroxide is a clear liquid, slightly more viscous than water. In dilute solution, it appears colorless. With its oxidizing properties, hydrogen peroxide is often used as a bleach or cleaning agent...

  • Electrophilic halogen
    Halogen
    The halogens or halogen elements are a series of nonmetal elements from Group 17 IUPAC Style of the periodic table, comprising fluorine , chlorine , bromine , iodine , and astatine...

    s: elemental fluorine
    Fluorine
    Fluorine is the chemical element with atomic number 9, represented by the symbol F. It is the lightest element of the halogen column of the periodic table and has a single stable isotope, fluorine-19. At standard pressure and temperature, fluorine is a pale yellow gas composed of diatomic...

    , chlorine
    Chlorine
    Chlorine is the chemical element with atomic number 17 and symbol Cl. It is the second lightest halogen, found in the periodic table in group 17. The element forms diatomic molecules under standard conditions, called dichlorine...

    , bromine
    Bromine
    Bromine ") is a chemical element with the symbol Br, an atomic number of 35, and an atomic mass of 79.904. It is in the halogen element group. The element was isolated independently by two chemists, Carl Jacob Löwig and Antoine Jerome Balard, in 1825–1826...

     and iodine
    Iodine
    Iodine is a chemical element with the symbol I and atomic number 53. The name is pronounced , , or . The name is from the , meaning violet or purple, due to the color of elemental iodine vapor....

    , and electrophilic salts such as sodium hypochlorite or N-chloro compounds such as chloramine-T
    Chloramine-T
    Tosylchloramide or N-chloro tosylamide, sodium salt, sold as chloramine-T, is a N-chlorinated and N-deprotonated sulfonamide used as a biocide and a mild disinfectant. It is a white powder that gives unstable solutions with water...

    ; halide
    Halide
    A halide is a binary compound, of which one part is a halogen atom and the other part is an element or radical that is less electronegative than the halogen, to make a fluoride, chloride, bromide, iodide, or astatide compound. Many salts are halides...

     ions are not corrosive
  • Organic halides and organic acid halides such as acetyl chloride
    Acetyl chloride
    Acetyl chloride, CH3COCl, also known as ethanoyl chloride or acyl chloride, is an acid chloride derived from acetic acid. It belongs to the class of organic compounds called acyl halides. It is a colorless liquid. Acetyl chloride does not exist in nature, because contact with water would hydrolyze...

     and benzyl chloroformate
    Benzyl chloroformate
    Benzyl chloroformate is the benzyl ester of chloroformic acid. It is also known as benzyl chlorocarbonate is an oily liquid whose color is anywhere from yellow to colorless. It is also known for its pungent odor...

  • Acid anhydrides
  • Alkylating agents such as dimethyl sulfate
    Dimethyl sulfate
    Dimethyl sulfate is a chemical compound with formula 2SO2. As the diester of methanol and sulfuric acid, its formula is often written as 2SO4 or even Me2SO4, where CH3 or Me is methyl...

  • Some organic materials such as phenol
    Phenol
    Phenol, also known as carbolic acid, phenic acid, is an organic compound with the chemical formula C6H5OH. It is a white crystalline solid. The molecule consists of a phenyl , bonded to a hydroxyl group. It is produced on a large scale as a precursor to many materials and useful compounds...

     ("carbolic acid")

Caustic spills


In October 2010, a toxic spill
Ajka alumina plant accident
The Ajka alumina sludge spill was an industrial accident at a caustic waste reservoir chain of the Ajkai Timföldgyár alumina plant in Ajka, Veszprém County, in western Hungary...

of red alkaline sludge cascaded through dozens of villages in Hungary, killing four and injuring dozens. See here for more information.