Hydrochloric (muriatic) acid is a toxic chemical with a variety of household and industrial uses. It is a dangerous liquid that should always be handled with extreme caution and used only when necessary. Inhalation of vapors can cause burns to all body tissues, lung damage and even death in extreme cases. Handling hydrochloric acid properly reduces your risk of inhalation of harmful fumes.
A common household use for hydrochloric acid is cleaning concrete or masonry to prepare it for painting or sealing. In this context it is often referred to by the name "muriatic acid." According to the Environmental Protection Agency, hydrochloric acid has many industrial uses in food, textile, chloride, fertilizer, dye and rubber production, among other industrial and laboratory applications.
Hydrochloric acid fumes are very corrosive and may lead to lung damage. When inhaled, hydrochloric acid causes irritation, coughing and choking. It also causes nose, throat and respiratory inflammation. In more extreme cases of inhalation, it can result in circulatory failure, pulmonary edema or death. The vapors can irritate and damage the eyes. The EPA reports that chronic occupational exposure to fumes can erode the teeth and result in gastritis, chronic bronchitis, dermatitis and photosensitization. Hydrochloric acid fumes may also aggravate pre-existing eye diseases and skin disorders.
When hydrochloric acid fumes have been inhaled, immediately remove the victim to fresh air. Seek immediate medical attention and administer artificial respiration if the victim is not breathing. If the victim's eyes are burning due to vapor exposure, flush the eyes continuously for 15 minutes, occasionally lifting the upper and lower lids to flush out the eyes. Only a medical professional can determine what damage has occurred and an appropriate course of treatment, so always seek medical help immediately regardless of severity of symptoms.
To reduce your risk of harmful inhalation of hydrochloric acid fumes, always take the proper precautions for storing, handling and disposing of it. Use hydrochloric acid outside or with adequate ventilation. Never use it in an enclosed space. Wear a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)-approved personal respirator, acid-resistant rubber gauntlet gloves, safety goggles or a face shield, rubber boots and an acid-resistant apron or coveralls. Store hydrochloric acid in a tightly sealed container away from heat, direct sunlight and moisture. Do not reuse the container. Dispose of unused acid and the container as hazardous waste according to local, state or federal guidelines. Hydrochloric acid does not biodegrade and leaches into groundwater if disposed of improperly.