What pH Level is Hazardous?

When it comes to dealing with hazardous waste levels, it’s important to know how to determine acidity and alkaline levels of water-soluble substances. Accomplished through pH testing (or the power of hydrogen), any water-based material will be identified as either neutral, acidic or alkaline.

For industries and commercial businesses that produce wastes, ensuring hazardous material is being properly disposed of is crucial. For any potentially corrosive hazardous wastes, the level of pH must be tested. Depending on whether or not the pH levels are outside neutral levels, determines its levels of corrosivity and hazardousness.

In this post, you’ll gain a better understanding of what pH levels are, how to measure the levels, types of corrosive acids and bases and how to properly dispose of those dangerous wastes.

Testing pH Levels

Simply put, pH is what refers to the acidity and alkalinity present in water-based materials. It measures how basic or acidic a substance is by measuring the amount of hydrogen ions present in the substance or solution.

Ranging from 0 to 14 on a measurement scale, a pH of 7 is neutral while anything above or below is considered basic and acidic, respectively. Substances that are either very basic or very acidic are considered corrosive, creating a characteristic hazardous waste.

Since the 14 different levels indicate how acidic or basic the water-soluble substance is, it’s important to recognize the difference in pH measurements. As the pH level increases, so does the alkaline.

In other words, anything that has a pH level above 7 means the substance is alkaline. As a substance lowers in pH levels from a neutral 7 to anything below, it indicates an increase in acidity. A substance becomes increasingly more acidic as their pH levels decrease.

Corrosive Hazardous Substances (D002)

Due to a characteristic of corrosivity, the wastes are identified as hazardous and can be very dangerous.

When exposed to substances with high or low pH levels, the strong acids and bases are corrosive to bio-membranes and can incite damage to the tissues.

Some examples of physical effects of acidic and basic levels can include:

  • Skin corrosion
  • Eye irritation
  • Sensitization
  • Burning of human tissue
  • Severe scarring
  • Lung issues

Because of the danger that can occur to those who have come into contact, ingested or absorbed corrosive substances, even a small leak or tiny spill require immediate attention to prevent contamination of the surrounding environment. There is a general rule that follows the corrosivity characteristic (D002).

A solution is considered hazardous when aqueous solutions have a pH level of less than or equal to 2 or greater than or equal to 12.5 on pH levels.

Corrosive Acids

As previously mentioned, a substance is considered acidic when its pH levels are below a neutral 7. Typically speaking, those substances with levels between 6-8 are considered to be neutral.

However, the pH levels of 0-5 are acidic with a level of 0 being the most acidic. While in everyday use, there are acidic foods and beverages we consume. However, when the substance is isolated, it is harmful to human and environmental health.

A few examples of corrosive acids include:

  • Hydrochloric acid (HCL) – has a pH level of 1.1
    • Effects – immediately dissolves skin tissue when in contact
    • Found in – fireworks, batteries, leather materials, building materials, water and salt purification
  • Sulfuric acid (H2So4) – has a pH level of 0.5
    • Effects – can cause acid rain, reacts violently with water
    • Found in – lead-acid batteries, manufacturing, fertilizers, dyes, paints, explosives, lubricants, metals and batteries.
  • Nitric acid (HNO3) – has a pH level of 1.2 
    • Effects – can cause severe burns, dermatitis, ulcerations and yellow staining when in contact with the skin
    • Found in – plastics, dyes, explosives, ammonium nitrate, medical field
  • Chromic acid (H2CrO4) – has a pH level of 3.03
    • Effects – can burn the skin
    • Found in – cleaning agents, glaze manufacturing, colored glass, chromium painting
  • Acetic acid (CH3COOH) – has a pH level of 24
    • Effects – can be substantially harmful to human health and environment in large, isolated quantities.
    • Found in – vinegar, solvents for inks, paints and coatings, medical industry, food production

Corrosive Bases

When a solution or substance is equal to or greater than 12.5 pH levels, it is considered high in alkaline as well as a corrosive waste. This means it is a corrosive hazardous base as it is high in alkalinity.

When measured on the pH scale, anything above a 7 on the pH scale is considered a base. When the pH levels reach or exceed 12.5 pH, it then becomes hazardous. As with all hazardous wastes, when in contact with human or environmental health, it can be very dangerous.

A few examples of corrosive bases include:

  • Ammonium Hydroxide (NH4OH) – has a pH of 10.09
    • Effects – excessive amounts can cause tissue damage to the skin
    • Found in – detergents, textiles, pharmaceuticals, explosives, inks, soaps, ceramics
  • Potassium Hydroxide (KOH) – has a pH of 10.98
    • Effects – headaches, dizziness, nausea, skin allergies, eye damage, skin damage, nose, lung, throat irritation
    • Found in – fertilizers, soft soaps, biodiesels, chemical cremations
  • Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH) – has a pH of 13
    • Effects – burns to the eyes, skin burns, lung damage, vomiting, nausea, swallowing difficulties, dermatitis
    • Found in – the paper industry, cleaning agents, metal production
  • Sodium Hypochlorite (NaCIO) – has a pH of 13
    • Effects – nausea, vomiting, skin burns, throat infections, headaches, gastrointestinal irritation
    • Found in – waste management, bleach, disinfectants, medical antiseptics, agricultural pesticide

Hazardous pH Levels in the Workplace

Whether it be within the medical industry or to mining operations, there are several industries that have the potential to produce large quantities of hazardous substances. Especially for corrosive materials, ensuring pH levels are within the non-hazardous range is of the utmost importance.

If  a workplace is producing corrosive hazardous waste, it means the waste can corrode metal and, therefore, can be extremely harmful to both environmental and human health. Regardless of which industry you’re in, partnering with a certified environmental hazardous waste agency for accurate results and safe disposal can ensure safety.

Get in touch with EHS Laboratories today to get started on your journey to environmental safety.