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State warns on use of hydrofluoric acid in car washes

State warns on use of hydrofluoric acid in car washes

A chemical used to wash commercial vehicles can seriously endanger the people who work with it, according to new research by the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries.

Commonly used in car and truck wash products to brighten aluminum and break down roadway grime, hydrofluoric acid is “insidiously toxic,” according to research by the department's Safety & Health Assessment & Research for Prevention, or SHARP, program.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which published SHARP's research in its latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, says occupational exposure can result in chemical burns, disability and death.

Workers compensation injury reports from 2001 to 2013 show that nearly 50 workers in Washington state were burned after coming in contact with products that contain hydrofluoric acid, the state's monopoly workers comp insurer said Thursday in a statement. Seven of the injured workers were hurt seriously enough to require hospitalization.

Most of the injured employees worked as auto detailers, car and truck washers, and truck drivers, according to the research.

“Initially, when it touches the skin there may be little or no pain,” SHARP researcher Carolyn Whitaker said in the statement. “That means workers are often unaware of the burn until later and typically delay getting treatment.”

While the researchers recommend using products that don't contain hydrofluoric acid, they say workplaces that do use it should take steps to minimize exposure, including educating workers and making sure they wear personal protective gear, the statement says.

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