In our first post we covered aluminum sulfate’s composition and practical uses. At Affinity Chemical, we believe in making safety a priority, so in this post we discuss safety guidelines, and safe storage and handling of alum.
General Safety Guidelines
General safety procedures should be followed when handling and storing aluminum sulfate. These include (1):
- All chemical products must be stored and labelled in accordance with the instructions on the safety sheet. Chemicals must normally be stored in their original packaging. If you need smaller amounts of a chemical, the new packaging must be suitable for the substance.
- Chemicals must not be stored together with inflammable material and gas cylinders.
- Chemical containers must be stored with closed lids when they are not being used.
- Equipment for handling and cleaning up spillage must be in readiness and suitable for the stored chemicals. It is suitable to have equipment placed outside the chemical store.
- It is important for the fire classification of storage lockers and rooms to match the types and amounts of chemicals stored therein.
- Combustible material must be stored in fireproof cupboards or in separate spaces.
- Use personal protection equipment (e.g., gloves, face mask) where necessary.
- Surplus chemicals and hazardous waste must be dealt with in accordance with the information in the safety data sheet.
- First Aid equipment must be available.
- Workplaces must be cleaned regularly. There must not be chemical spills on the floor.
Human Risks of Aluminum Sulfate
Although aluminum sulfate is a versatile chemical, it is not without its risks. It is designated as a hazardous substance under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) (3).
Acute Toxicity Estimate: The acute oral LD50 is greater than 5,000 mg/kg.
Chronic Toxicity Estimate: The acute oral LD50 is greater than 5,000 mg/kg.
Symptoms of Overexposure: May cause skin and eye irritation. If inhaled, may cause headaches, nausea, and respiratory irritations.
Carcinogenicity: Not listed as a carcinogen by NTP, IARC, or OSHA.
Other Possible Health Hazards: The common recognized injury from aluminum sulfate is local tissue irritation. The irritating action is often from hydrolysis to form sulfuric acid and may occur from ingestion, skin or eye contact, or inhalation of dusts and mists. Remove victim from contaminated area.
Routes of Entry: Ingestion, skin or eye contact, or inhalation of dusts and mists.
SKIN / EYES: May cause corneal burns or severe irritation in eyes. Fumes or mists may cause irritation or burns to skin.
INGESTION: Oral and gastrointestinal irritation. Local tissue damage. Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and gastrointestinal bleeding may follow. Can be fatal if swallowed in sufficient quantities.
INHALATION: Irritation of the respiratory system. Long term exposure may cause bronchial irritation, coughing, and bronchial pneumonia. Medical conditions generally aggravated are acute and chronic respiratory diseases.
First Aid Measures
Skin/Eye Contact: For skin, immediately remove contaminated clothes under safety shower. Flush skin with running water for at least 15 minutes. Launder clothes before reuse. For eyes, flush carefully in eye wash for several minutes; remove contact lenses if present and easy to do; cautiously flush person’s eyes with running water for at least 15 minutes. Seek Medical attention if irritation persists.
Ingestion: Rinse mouth. Immediately dilute swallowed material by orally administering large amounts of water or milk. DO NOT INDUCE VOMITING. NEVER administer liquids orally to an unconscious person. Call physician or poison control center if person feels unwell or more than a few drops are ingested.
Inhalation: Seek medical assistance if irritation is noted, if person is having difficulty breathing, or the possibility exists of fluid in the lungs. Remove victim from the contaminated atmosphere. If breathing has stopped, give artificial respiration. Weak breathing may be supplemented with a bag-mask or manually operated air supply that delivers at least 1 liter/second.
Environmental Risks of Aluminum Sulfate
Not only can aluminum sulfate be dangerous to humans if not handled properly, it can also create risks to the environment.
Aluminum sulfate is a dry acid and can create zones of high acidity if accidentally spilled. If the spilled material does not come into contact with moisture, most of it could be cleaned up before significant acidification occurs. However, if it is spill outdoors, most soils are typically fissured, loose, and sometimes moist, making complete soil cleanup unlikely (3).
As stated earlier, if alum is mixed with water it can create sulfuric acid which can cause burns to plant and wildlife and can lead to death if ingested by animals.
Safe Storage and Handling
Smoking and/or eating is not recommended in storage areas. Stainless steel or fiberglass tanks are recommended. Keep product away from heat sources and direct sunlight. Do not reuse storage containers unless properly reconditioned. Isolate appropriately from chemicals where low pH could create a hazardous byproduct; for example a combination with hypochlorite could lead to the evolution of chlorine gas.
For cleanup of the dry form of alum, sweep or shovel spills of the compound and place in a covered container. Wash down residue with large amounts of water and neutralize with soda ash or lime, if necessary (2).
For the liquid form, wear PPE appropriate for handling the material. No smoking or eating in spill areas. Absorb small spills with sand or vermiculite. Place contaminated material in appropriate container for disposal.
If spilled on the ground, the affected area should be removed to a depth of 1 to 2 inches and placed in an appropriate container for disposal. Large spills should be handled according to your organization’s predetermined plan. Do not flush material to public sewer systems or any waterways.
Wear appropriate protective clothing and equipment during cleanup activities. Ensure adequate decontamination of tools and equipment following cleanup. Adequate ventilation is required when neutralizing spills / leaks (5).
Suitable Extinguishing Media: Not combustible. Use extinguishing agents appropriate for surrounding fire.
Special Fire Fighting: Move container from fire area if it can be done without risk. Avoid inhalation of material or combustion byproducts by wearing a self-contained breathing apparatus. Dike area to prevent runoff and contamination of water source. Stay upwind and keep out of low areas.
Unusual Fire/Explosion: Under fire conditions at temperatures greater than 650°C or 1202°F, decomposes to give off sulfur trioxide, an oxidizing agent which will support combustion. Sulfur trioxide will react to form sulfuric acid.
Exposure Controls / Personal Protection
Component: Aluminum Sulfate tetradecahydrate
OSHA PEL: 2.0 mg/m3 (as Al)
ACGIH TLV: 2.0 mg/m3 (as Al)
If airborne exposures exceed 1.0 mg/m3, a negative pressure air-purifying respirator is recommended. Cartridges must be NIOSH / MSHA approved against dusts and mists having TWA than 0.05 mg/m3.
Eyewash and safety shower should be available near storage and usage points.
Exposed skin and eyes should be protected and contact with skin and clothing avoided. Minimal PPE would be closed goggles and/or face shield and gloves (rubber,neoprene,PVC) with work clothing covering other exposed skin.
Arriving material may be hot; personnel performing unload operations should have additional PPE such as a rainsuit/slicker suit, goggles with face shield, and appropriate footwear and gloves.
Contact site environmental personnel and/or state and federal agencies for disposal procedures that are in accordance with environmental regulations.
If you follow these safety, storage, and handling guidelines, you will be able to use aluminum sulfate safely. To learn more about our alum products and access Safety Data and Product Data Sheets, visit our product page.