Whether you are part of a small-scale operation or a large-scale industrial setting, anyone working with nitric acid needs to be aware of the basic safety precautions associated with this potentially hazardous chemical.

One of the most important things to understand about this reagent is how to neutralize it. That’s because neutralization is a key safety step for both cleaning up spills and proper waste disposal. It can also save your business some money when it comes to pick-up from a waste management company.

In this article, we break down what nitric acid is, how it is used in an industrial setting, potential safety risks, and how to go about neutralizing it.

What is nitric acid?

Nitric acid, which has the chemical formula HNO3, is a corrosive acid and a strong oxidizer. Because of these properties, nitric acid can react violently and explosively with many other reagents, including bases, reducing agents, metallic compounds, or other organic chemicals.

What is nitric acid used for?

Nitric acid is a widespread chemical which finds use across multiple industries. Some of these include:

  • Metal processing
  • Production of mineral fertilizers and explosives
  • Production of synthetic fibers, such as Nylon
  • Production of plastics
  • Production of lubricants and dyes
  • Pharmaceutical manufacturing

Why neutralize nitric acid?

Despite its numerous applications, nitric acid comes along with some safety risks. Anyone working with nitric acid should be aware of safety hazards and best practices to minimize health risk.

Nitric acid vapors and fumes can cause severe burns to the skin and eyes, and irritate the respiratory system. Acute inhalation of high concentrations must be treated immediately to avoid lung edema or even death.

Workers should always wear regulation personal protective equipment and be fully trained in the appropriate safety protocol.

In the case of a chemical spill, or for safe disposal of chemical waste, nitric acid must be neutralized. This process removes the dangerous oxidizing, reactive, and explosive hazards associated with concentrated nitric acid.

How to neutralize nitric acid

Neutralization is a fairly basic concept in chemistry (no pun intended). When you add an acid and a base together, they react to form innocuous water and salt. That is why this is an ideal way to clean up chemical spills and mitigate the hazards of chemical waste.

Wear personal protective equipment

Before handling chemicals, be sure to don the appropriate protective gear, including goggles, and ensure that all skin is covered. Work should be performed in a well-ventilated space, such as a fume hood.

Choose a neutralizing reagent

Since nitric acid is an acid (obviously), we’ll need to choose a base to add to it in order to achieve neutralization. Some options for bases include:

  • Sodium hydroxide
  • Calcium hydroxide
  • Magnesium oxide
  • Ammonia
  • Sodium bicarbonate

Sodium bicarbonate, also known as baking soda, is a cheap and easy solution for small scale neutralization reactions. However, in a larger scale or industrial setting, a different choice may be more appropriate.

Choose a reaction vessel

You’ll need a reaction vessel that is large enough to accommodate the reaction. It must be made from materials specifically designed to withstand the pressure and heat of the reaction. Before neutralization, nitric acid must also be stored in an acid-proof container.

Dilute the nitric acid if necessary

Before performing the neutralization reaction, you can dilute the nitric acid with water to mitigate the violence of the reaction.

Stir the reaction and check the pH

The base should be added slowly and carefully. You can speed the reaction by using a magnetic stir bar. You will be able to monitor the progression of the reaction by checking the pH using pH paper, or ideally a pH meter. The end goal is to achieve a pH of about 7, which is neutral. Do not add too much base.

Dispose of waste

If you have appropriately formed the neutralization reaction, then you no longer have hazardous waste, and you can usually dispose of the neutralized solution down the drain.

Always check with the chemical waste disposal guidelines in your local jurisdiction to be sure you are complying with regulations in your area.

Where to buy nitric acid and reagents for neutralization

Lab Alley is pleased to provide you with high quality nitric acid, in a wide range of concentrations and sizes, including bulk sizing. If you are working with nitric acid, whether in a large industry setting or for a small scale operation, we recommend having a neutralizing base ready to go. Lab Alley sells your choice of bases, including ammonium hydroxide, sodium hydroxide, calcium hydroxide, and more.

We meticulously source all of our products to ensure high quality and sustainability. As always, if you have any questions regarding nitric acid or any of our products, please feel free to contact us for more information.

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