Monday, 25 January 2010

Household Hazards

Would you use a product for your household if it showed these symbols?

The skull and crossbones are universal for poison and other lethal substances.

Corrosive, although another common symbol is that of the skeleton of a human hand.


Sulfuric (Sulphuric) acid is meant to be handled by professionals who are trained to use it. This chemical is unsafe in the hands of the general public or consumer, i.e. the residential homeowner or tenant. Sulfuric acid is not available for retail sale, and anyone in possession of such chemicals have obtained them from industrial sources.

It is not meant to be used in toilets for clogged drains. There are stringent warnings on the bottles to remind users of the dangers in this product:

- to wear acid resistant gloves and goggles or face shield
- not to get in eyes, on skin or on clothing
- not to breathe the vapors or mist
- to use sufficient ventilation to prevent build-up of vapors or mist
- not to be used where other drain chemicals (cleaners and openers), hot water or bleach are present
- this product attacks all organic and inorganic material or chemicals and may cause an explosion or fire
- contact with metals liberates flammable hydrogen gas
- not to allow product to come in contact with stainless steel, chrome, aluminum, certain plastics and non-acid resistant enamel.
- Not to use in old drains or traps
- CORROSIVE to the eyes, skin and respiratory tract. May cause blindness and permanent scarring. Causes lung injury – effects may be delayed. Strong inorganic acid mists containing sulphuric acid are CARCINOGENIC. Risk of cancer depends on duration and level of exposure to the sulphuric acid mist.

The skull and crossbones symbol means the product is VERY TOXIC, immediate and serious. Products which have this symbol ought not to be used at all in a household where it is all too easy to have accidents.

The reason I have posted information about Sulfuric Acid is because one of my housemates decided to assist in the declogging of the kitchen sink on the weekend by using Sulfuric Acid. Despite being told quite firmly that she not use it as other chemicals had already been used on the drain (without much success), and the fact that it was a hazardous chemical, she poured it into the kitchen sink drain and the two toilets between 12:30am and 1:30am on Saturday when the rest of the household had retired to bed. No windows had been opened for ventilation. The toilets had been flushed afterwards, yet the next day the kitchen sink sported large black areas around the drains, along with chemical odour in the kitchen, in the bathrooms and in the hallways.

I had used one of the bathrooms around 2am, felt dizzy while there, and upon returning to my room had opened the window and left it open for several hours despite the chilly temperatures. I have been to the doctor since with complaints of burning eyes, severe headache, sore throat, tightness and pain of the upper chest and difficulty breathing at times. I suffer from occasional asthma, but now wonder what will happen in the coming days. I am drinking large quantities of water and fluids to flush my system hoping the more serious effects do not occur while wondering why this roommate chose to take such a risk with others health and her own.

Source and photo credit: wikipedia


Cloudia said...

thanks for the reminder, Barbara.

Aloha, Friend!

Comfort Spiral

Teresa said...

Thanks for the information. I hope you feel better soon.

RuneE said...

Once upon a time I used strong acids quite extensively in a laboratory (including sulphuric) acid - but always in a ventilated fume cupboard. Strong acids has absolutely no place in plumbing - that is what plumbers are for.

My guess is that it is sulphur dioxide that is troubling you, but since it came from clogged drains the possibilities are endless.

The doctor (hospital) sounds like the right place to visit again.

Take care and keep well!

Tess Kincaid said...


Charles Gramlich said...

Once upon a time I used a regular drain clog product and it ate through the old pipes we had under our sink.

Reb said...

Oh, wow. How much longer will she be a room mate? You might want a plumber out to inspect the drains and make sure they are not being eaten away and get the kitchen sink replaced. On her dime of course.

Barbara Martin said...

The landlord's father is a plumber and he is in the process of replacing the pipes and part of the kitchen sink. Turns out the drain pipe down into the basement was clogged the whole way.

The Landlord and I saw the plastic bottle the Sulphuric Acid was in: 32 oz at 90% pure sulphuric acid which makes it very strong indeed. The woman had been told firmly she was not to use it and yet did so. She will be leaving at month end, and taking her bad habits of flushing unused food down the toilets (i.e. half a large Dutch Oven of cooked rice which plugged a toilet for a whole week before it was cleared away).

The Toronto Residential Act, 2006 states that a tenant is responsible for any damage they do to any landlord's property, that they should take steps to correct the problem. Of course the Landlord is supposed to take steps on his end too, which was neglected in the clogged kitchen drain in this instance.

I know from previous employment working for the Alberta Emergency Preparedness Department of having to learn all the dangerous and hazardous chemicals with their symbols, toxicity and harm levels. Sulphuric Acid is particularly nasty, and when it mixes with other ingredients forms different sulfuric oxides which are equally dangerous. These substances travel along other pipes in the vicinity, the immediate house and into neighbouring houses down the sewer line. Thus, with the potential to do harm to others.

The City of Toronto is trying to clean up their water sources and sewers by preventing toxic substances from entering their pipes. They have found that Sulphuric Acid is dissolving their sewer pipes. Their website can be found at toronto dot ca for further information.

Barbara Martin said...

The scary part of this was before the plumber came when the U-joint under the sink was actually sweating liquid to the outside to form droplets.

Anonymous said...

God Barbara! Fun and games. Not.Hope all ends well after all this, and that you feel better soon.

Bernita said...

What does one do with idiots like he!
That's almost criminal!
Hope you suffer no permanent damage from this, Barbara!

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Barbara,
That is a very scary experience. As someone who also suffers from occasional asthma I know how terrible that chest tightness can be. Please keep the ventolin handy.
Kia kaha.

Lana Gramlich said...

I'm sorry for your trouble. That sucks. The problem with common sense is that it's not common enough.

Barbara Martin said...

Thanks for the good wishes, all.

People are able to obtain industrial chemicals, as this case shows, despite them not being able in retail stores. The woman thinks she has done nothing wrong and that she was only trying to help with the clogged drain. It hasn't entered her mind that she could have killed all of us in the house and the neighbours too! I wouldn't be surprised to learn they are having wierd headaches and other side-effects.

Rick said...

Scary stuff, Barbara. I've been a hazardous materials specialist for so many years that I would never even think of someone doing something like this. Thanks for spreading the word.

And I write a blog for emergency responders, so maybe I'll post something there on this topic following your lead.

Nice post.