If you’ve ever been unfortunate enough to come in to contact with strong acids, such as sulfuric acid or nitric acid, you know the chemical burn is much like holding a flame to your skin. But where you can blow a flame out, acid continues to burn until it’s either washed away or it stops reacting.
Sulfuric and nitric acids are strong, but there are far stronger acids that can dissolve skin and cause horrific irreversible damage. So what can an acid like this do to a person if they are fully submerged in the toxic broth? That’s what we’ll find out, in this episode of the Infographics Show: What If You Fell Into Acid?
Depending on the type of acid, whether it’s diluted, and how long you are submerged in it, an assortment of nightmares awaits you. Burning agonizing pain and even death. Acid is one of the most unforgiving substances known to man. It eats away at everything we are made of, and can destroy our bodies in varying gross ways. Concentrated acid reacts with water to heat it, so when acid comes in to contact with your skin, there is immediate burning, as 60% of our bodies are water. The skin then swells, before contracting to about half the size of its normal elasticity. Acid can also blind if it comes into contact with the eyes.
Nitric acid is a strong acid and a powerful oxidizing agent, which can cause chemical burns as it decomposes animal muscle. It is also used in the production of ammonium nitrate for fertilizers, making plastics, and in the manufacturing of dyes, so it is found in industrial workplaces. In 2012, construction worker Martin Davis fell through a roof into a vat of acid used for cleaning steel. Davis was submerged, but thanks to a brave co-worker who waded in after him, he was pulled out, undressed, and sprayed with water.
The tank that Davis landed in contained a solution that had 40 to 70 percent nitric acid within it. Even being submerged for a short time, Davis’s skin was burnt and his body was bright red. He was in shock when he emerged from the vat. ‘He was incoherent,’ commented fire chief Vincent Colavitti. Sulfuric acid is also commonly found in industrial or agricultural sites as it is used to make phosphate fertilizers and in the processing and manufacturing of copper and zinc. In 2007, an 18-year-old man named Fernando Gonzalez drowned in a vat of sulfuric acid after an accident at work. He fell forward into a waist-high vat of it. He was wearing facial protection as he carried out his job of submerging circuit boards in the vat, but this mask was not enough to save him.
We often see movie characters using acid to dissolve bodies in order to destroy criminal evidence. And this may not be far from real life, as The Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology in Karnataka, India, carried out a study to determine which kinds of acids could be used to dissolve a body after a crime. They did this by submerging teeth into various types of acid, including hydrochloric acid, nitric acid, and sulphuric acid. The results showed that teeth could be completely dissolved in 37% hydrochloric acid after 15 hours. With 65% nitric acid, it took 20 hours, and in the case of 96% sulphuric acid, they did not completely dissolve, but after 144 hours, there was only a residual precipitate remaining at the bottom of the container.
What about naturally occurring phenomenon? Nature can be foreboding, and also a place to find dangerous acidic springs, which unfortunately is what Colin Nathaniel Scott discovered in 2016 at Yellowstone National Park. When visiting the park with his sister, he fell into a hot spring in the Norris Geyser Basin. His sister called the forest rangers to help, but they were unable to go into the spring to rescue Scott because of the harsh conditions. The acidity was not the main issue that hampered the rescue mission; the extreme heat of the spring was also a problem. The combination of these two factors created the perfect recipe for completely dissolving Scott’s body.
What about super strength acids? When doing our research we came across one that tops them all, fluoroantimonic acid. This killer syrup is way, way more potent than stomach acid, and makes its cousin sulfuric acid, look like a cup of warm milk. It is so strong that if you were holding a bottle of it, it would eat through the glass before continuing to eat through your hand. So how is it stored?
It has to be kept in specially made Teflon containers. Yes, the same teflon used in the production of non-stick cookware. This acid explodes if it comes in to contact with water, and it will cause huge trauma to any living organism by destroying any flesh it comes into contact with. Though it is useful for some scientific studies, it’s certainly seems it’s better to keep this acidic demon well away from people. Thankfully, we couldn’t find any examples where people had come into contact with fluoroantimonic acid.