Corrosive means that a substance has harmful or destructive properties. Many acids and strong bases may come with a warning that they are corrosive. A corrosive substance may not have a written label, but instead have a symbol of a test tube with pouring over a hand or brick with a hole forming where the liquid is falling.
Injury to Humans
Corrosive material such as HCl, hydrochloric acid, can destroy human tissue. When working with corrosive materials, gloves and safety goggles should be worn at all times to prevent any accidental injury. If the material is volatile or being heated, the substance should be handled under a chemical hood to prevent any injury from the fumes.
Damage to Materials
Corrosive chemicals can permanently destroy materials that the chemical comes in contact with. In the case of strong acids, such as HCl, corrosive substances dissolve and chemically react with metals. Any corrosive acid should not be used in the presence of metals or polymers, such as polyesters, that are not protected. This is why holes can form in shirts that are hit with battery acid.
Corrosive materials may also chemically react with other chemicals forming dangerous byproducts. In the case of HCl, oxidizers may form chlorine gas, a very toxic gas. All chemicals that are being used with a corrosive material should be checked to make sure that they are safe to use.
The MSDS, material safety data sheet, a list of all the safety information for any given chemical, should be checked before its use. In the case of HCl, the MSDS states that HCl should be used only with gloves, googles, and under a safety hood. If you come in contact with the substance, the affected area should be flushed with water and medical treatment should be sought immediately.
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