Acetic Acid Medical Uses, Hazards and Exposure Limits

Acetic acid is a clear and colourless organic liquid with a strong vinegary odour. Household vinegar is about 5% acetic acid and 95% water.

In this post we’ll examine some of the risks associated with acetic acid and discuss some of the ways you can manage these risks in your workplace.

Medical Uses for Acetic Acid

Acetic acid has many applications. In the medical sector, it can be used in the manufacture of vitamins, antibiotics, hormones, and other chemical products.

Acetic Acid Hazards

The form of acetic acid that’s widely used as a raw material and a solvent in industrial, manufacturing, medical and pharmaceutical processes and is known as glacial acetic acid. It’s a colourless and corrosive liquid at 99.5% concentration.

It’s very unlikely that any consumers, patients, or other members of the public will ever come into contact with glacial acetic acid. However, as it’s so widely used in a variety of manufacturing processes, glacial acetic acid does pose occupational exposure risks.

Acetic Acid Exposure Risks

Occupational exposure to high concentrate acetic acid through inhalation, skin contact, and eye contact can result in:

  • Eye, nose, and throat irritation.
  • Possible damage to lungs, eyes, and skin.
  • Pharyngeal edema.
  • Chronic bronchitis.

Acetic Acid Exposure Limits

Health and safety bodies set standard exposure limits for glacial acetic acid. For example, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) sets a long-term workplace exposure limit (WEL) of 10 ppm or 25 mg.m³ over an eight-hour time weighted average (TWA) reference period. Meanwhile, the short-term exposure limit is 20 ppm or 50 mg.m³ over a 15-minute reference period.

How to Manage the Occupational Exposure Risks of Acetic Acid

Here are some measures that will help you manage the exposure risks of acetic acid in your workplace:

  • Wear appropriate PPE when using or transporting acetic acid (gloves, goggles, face mask). Read our full guide to the key factors you should consider when selecting PPE.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions in regard to how you store and transport acetic acid, paying particular attention to the temperature at which you store your supply.
  • Only use acetic acid in clean and well-ventilated areas. Again, the manufacturer may recommend air quality precautions to take, including the number of air changes per hour you should implement.
  • In the event of a spillage, acetic acid is fully miscible in water. So you may have to use a specialist chemical spill kit to safely clean up the spillage.
  • Any staff who’ll be handling and using acetic acid should receive full training on the possible hazards, on managing the risks, and on the steps to take in the result of a spillage.


Understand the Acetic Acid Occupational Exposure Risks in Your Workplace

Our workplace exposure monitoring services will help you identify the acetic acid exposure risks wherever your staff might work with acetic acid in your workplace. Following our expert consultation, you’ll get a detailed report and actionable advice on the measures you can take to meet your COSHH obligations and safeguard your staff’s health and wellbeing.

Learn more about our specialist workplace exposure monitoring services.