Hydrofluoric acid poisoning: Data from the Victorian Poisons Information Centre


  • Anselm Wong, MB BS, Toxicology and Emergency Registrar; Shaun Greene, MB, ChB, MSc, FACEM, Emergency Physician, Clinical Toxicologist, Medical Director; Jeff Robinson, B. Pharm, FSHP, Grad Dip Hosp Pharm, Manager.

Dr Anselm Wong, Victorian Poisons Information Centre, Austin Hospital, Heidelberg, Vic. 3084, Australia. Email: anselm.wong@austin.org.au


Objective: To determine the epidemiology of hydrofluoric acid (HF) exposures, over an extended time period, in Victoria, Australia.

Methods: Retrospective case review of all HF exposures from calls to the Victorian Poisons Information Centre (VPIC) from June 2005 to February 2011.

Results: The VPIC received calls regarding 75 separate HF exposures (approximately 12 per year). The majority 68 (91%) of calls related to male patients. Sixty-nine (92%) calls related to adults, six (8%) to children (<12 years) and none to the elderly (>65 years age). Fifty-three per cent of exposures occurred at the workplace. Dermal exposures comprised 54 (72%). Forty-six (85%) of these resulted from hand contact, six (11%) arm and two (4%) legs. The second most common exposure was ocular 11 (15%). More than half of exposures involved HF concentrations of 10% or less. Of the dermal exposures treated in EDs, 16% required calcium treatment in a form other than gel. Overall poisoning severity was mild (79% of cases Poisoning Severity Score of 0 or 1). Health professionals were the most frequent callers (53% of all cases).

Conclusions: Calls to the VPIC regarding HF are relatively rare, but almost all calls regarding HF taken by the VPIC required hospital evaluation. The majority of exposures were accidental occupational dermal exposures in male adults and most of these were minor, requiring topical calcium gel only. Small exposures with higher concentrated HF can be fatal; however, there were no cases of severe toxicity in the present study.