Hydrochloric acid -- also known as hydrogen chloride -- has a wide range of uses. It is used in the photographic, textile and rubber industries, as well as in the making of chlorides, fertilizers and dyes. Hydrochloric acid does pose a number of health risks to those who work with it. People may be exposed to the ill effects by either breathing it in, or allowing it to come into contact with their skin. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the dangers of hydrochloric acid range from acute to chronic.
Acute Health Effects
Sudden and intense exposure to hydrochloric acid will put you at risk for many acute health effects. These dangers are often reversible. Inhalation of the substance may cause coughing, hoarseness, inflammation and ulceration of the respiratory tract, or chest pain. When hydrochloric acid comes in contact with your skin, you are at risk for severe burns, ulceration or even scarring. Additional acute health effects include vomiting, diarrhea or nausea.
Chronic Health Effects
Expose yourself to hydrochloric acid over a long period of time in your occupation and you may experience chronic effects. The EPA has linked chronic exposure to such conditions as gastritis, chronic bronchitis and dermatitis. Extensive exposure in low concentrations may also cause dental problems, including discoloration or erosion of the teeth.
According to the EPA, there is no information available on the reproductive effects of hydrochloric acid on humans. Tests in rats exposed to the substance did show an increase in fetal mortality and altered reproductive cycles.
Risk of Cancer
Hydrochloric acid has not been classified by the EPA for its ability or tendency to produce cancer. The agency says one study shows no carcinogenic response in rats exposed through inhalation, but there is no information which pertains to the carcinogenic effects in humans.