05 Jun 2001

Industry needs to improve workplace controls on exposure to the toxic and corrosive chemical, hydrofluoric acid, hydrogen fluoride (HF), according to a report by the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS), released today.

Acute exposure to HF through either inhalation or skin contact has led to a number of workplace fatalities. Low-level, long-term exposure can cause bone abnormalities.

Hydrofluoric acid was chosen for a preliminary assessment by NICNAS because of concern about the chemical's high toxicity and general availability.

Aqueous HF is used widely, especially in varied metal treatment and cleaning processes. Other important uses include wall and floor treatments, laboratory analysis, glass etching and cleaning, fabric rust removal, and etching silicon in the manufacture of semiconductors. Anhydrous HF is used as an alkylation catalyst at five petroleum refining sites in Australia.

Public exposure is most likely to occur from skin contact with consumer products containing HF. Skin contact can cause painful second and third degree burns, which heal slowly.

The National Drugs and Poisons Scheduling Committee is considering what concentrations of HF should be available to the public.

The assessment report found there were a number of actions that industry could take to improve safety, including using substitutes, but that compliance was poor.

Potential for environmental effects was also found, and NICNAS recommends that environment monitoring be carried out around sites known to produce HF incidentally.

The full text of the NICNAS public chemical assessment report on hydrogen fluoride is available from the NICNAS website at the PEC 19 page.


The National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS) operates under the Commonwealth Industrial Chemicals (Notification and Assessment) Act 1989.

NICNAS is a statutory scheme within the portfolio of the Minister for Health and Ageing. Its approach to the scientific assessment of chemicals covers toxicity, exposure and use to assess the environmental, public health and occupational health and safety risk. For more information see the web site www.nicnas.gov.au

Further information

Nick Miller, NICNAS, (02) 8577 8810 or 0407 228 285