Health and safety considerations

Sulphuric acid and hydrofluoric acid are dangerous chemicals, and care during delivery and unloading of acid is essential. There is a need to maintain sulphuric acid concentrations of 85 to 95% for good operation and to minimize corrosion. To prevent corrosion from hydrofluoric acid, acid concentrations inside the process unit must be maintained above 65% and moisture below 4%. Some corrosion and fouling in sulphuric acid units occurs from the breakdown of sulphuric acid esters, or where caustic is added for neutralization. These esters can be removed by fresh-acid treating and hot-water washing.

Upsets can be caused by loss of the coolant water needed to maintain process temperatures. Pressure on the cooling water and steam side of exchangers should be kept below the minimum pressure on the acid service side to prevent water contamination. Vents can be routed to soda ash scrubbers to neutralize hydrogen fluoride gas or hydrofluoric acid vapours before release. Curbs, drainage and isolation may be provided for process unit containment so that effluent can be neutralized before release to the sewer system.

Hydrofluoric acid units should be thoroughly drained and chemically cleaned prior to turnarounds and entry, to remove all traces of iron fluoride and hydrofluoric acid. Following shutdown, where water has been used, the unit should be thoroughly dried before hydrofluoric acid is introduced. Leaks, spills or releases involving hydrofluoric acid, or hydrocarbons containing hydrofluoric acid, are extremely hazardous. Precautions are necessary to assure that equipment and materials which have been in contact with acid are handled carefully and are thoroughly cleaned before they leave the process area or refinery. Immersion wash vats are often provided for neutralization of equipment which has come into contact with hydrofluoric acid.

There is a potential for serious hazardous and toxic exposures should leaks, spills or releases occur. Direct contact with sulphuric or hydrofluoric acid will cause severe skin and eye damage, and inhalation of acid mists or hydrocarbon vapours containing acid will cause severe irritation and damage to the respiratory system. Special precautionary emergency preparedness measures should be used, and protection should be provided that is appropriate to the potential hazard and areas possibly affected. Safe work practices and appropriate skin and respiratory personal protective equipment are needed where potential exposures to hydrofluoric and sulphuric acids during normal operations exist, such as reading gauges, inspecting and process sampling, as well as during emergency response, maintenance and turnaround activities. Procedures should be in place to assure that protective equipment and clothing worn in sulphuric or hydrofluoric acid activities, including chemical protective suits, head and shoe coverings, gloves, face and eye protection and respiratory protective equipment, are thoroughly cleaned and decontaminated before reissue.