Sunday, August 06, 2006

Alky

So the Edinburgh Festival has kicked off for another year today. According to the BBC:
Blogs are taking centre stage at this year's Festival Fringe in Edinburgh, with three different productions tapping into the world of online writers.

One of the Bloggers: Real Internet Diaries is composed entirely of extracts from UK Blogs. I wish I'd thought of that.

I remember Edinburgh as great fun. I was lucky enough to be there for the whole of the festival in 1985, 21 years ago, as I was working at the oil refinery in Grangemouth.

Lucky as I was to be in Edinburgh I was less lucky to be in Grangemouth. At the heart of the HF Alkylation Unit was Hydrofluoric Acid - the glass dissolving, world's scariest compound.

Symptoms of skin exposure to dilute HF are not felt immediately, but exposure of less than 10% of the body to it can be fatal, even with immediate medical treatment. Highly concentrated solutions may lead to acute hypocalcemia, followed by heart attack and death, and will usually be fatal in as little as 2% body exposure (about the size of the sole of the foot). This substance is extremely toxic and has the capacity to kill upon exposure rather than simply damage skin and eyes. It should be handled with extreme care, beyond that given to hydrochloric, sulphuric, or other mineral acids.
Due to low dissociation constant, HF can penetrate tissues quickly like a small non-polar particle. Hydrofluoric acid which comes into direct contact with the fingers can severely damage or destroy the tissue underneath the nail without causing any damage to the nail itself. It is this ability to cause little harm to outer tissues but considerable harm to inner tissues which can produce dangerous delays in treatment of hydrofluoric acid exposure. Once the pain starts, it is out of proportion to the burns produced. Patients often describe the feeling as if they have struck their fingers with a hammer. HF that penetrates under the skin causes later development of painful ulcers, which heal slowly.

Nice.

You could get hypocalcaemia because the acid pulls calcium out of your body so aggressively. We had to carry tubes of calcium glucamate around that we were supposed to rub into our body if we started to itch. Not a place for a hyperchondriac.

It was on the HF Alkylation Unit that I decided that I wanted an office job. I was at the top of a distillation column that was being waved about in the driving rain by a howling gale, clad from head to toe in rubber to stop the acid killing me and trying to find a rogue pressure transmitter when I began to whimper for my Mum and realised that there must be easier ways of making a living.
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