Although it’s not the most-dangerous chemical you might find in the workplace, proper handling of benzoic acid is a must to avoid injuries and health risks while on the job.Benzoic acid is a white, crystalline powder with a faint, non-offensive odor. It is a compound naturally found in many plants and is an important precursor for the synthesis of many other organic substances.
Benzoic acid is most commonly found in industrial settings to manufacture a wide variety of products such as perfumes, dyes, topical medications and insect repellents.
Benzoic acid’s salt (sodium benzoate) is commonly used as a pH adjustor and preservative in food, preventing the growth of microbes to keep food safe. It works by changing the internal pH of microorganisms to an acidic state that is incompatible with their growth and survival.
Safety Precautions when Handling Benzoic Acid
Benzoic acid is non-toxic and stable under ordinary conditions. While occupational exposure limits have not been established, benzoic acid may still pose a health risk and, therefore, the safe work practices should always be followed:
- Wash hands thoroughly after handling
- Use only in a well-ventilated area
- Minimize dust generation and accumulation
- Avoid contact with eyes, skin, and clothing
- Wash clothing before reuse
- Avoid breathing dust
Short and Long-Term Effects of Exposure to Benzoic Acid
Immediately or shortly after exposure to benzoic acid, the following health effects can occur:
- Eye damage
- Irritation of the skin, resulting in a rash, redness, and/or a burning feeling
- Irritation to the nose, throat and lungs if inhaled, which may cause coughing, wheezing and/or shortness of breath
In addition to these short-term exposure effects, prolonged or repeated exposure to benzoic acid can cause drying and cracking of the skin with redness and itching. Exposure to benzoic acid in high concentrations, particularly in susceptible individuals, may cause a skin allergy. If an allergy develops, even exposure to very low levels can cause itching and a skin rash.
Benzoic Acid Exposure Management
Take these steps if exposure to benzoic acid has occurred:
Immediately flush eyes with large amounts of water for at least 15 minutes. If wearing contact lenses, be sure to remove them before flushing. Seek medical attention.
Quickly remove contaminated clothing and wash contaminated skin immediately with large amounts of soap and water. Seek medical attention.
Individual should be removed from exposure and immediately moved to an area with fresh air. Seek medical attention immediately.
Get medical aid immediately. Rinse mouth and drink 2-4 cupfuls of milk or water. Do NOT induce vomiting.
Handling Benzoic Acid Spills
In the event benzoic acid is spilled:
- Evacuate personnel and control entrance to the area
- Eliminate all ignition sources
- Use a HEPA-filter vacuum for clean up and place into sealed containers for disposal
- Ventilate and wash area after clean up is complete
- Do NOT wash into sewer
Safe Storage of Benzoic Acid
Benzoic acid should be stored in a cool, dry and well-ventilated area in tightly closed containers. It should to be stored away from heat, sources of ignition and incompatible substances such as oxidizing agents (e.g. peroxides) and strong bases (e.g. sodium hydroxide).
It may be necessary to contain and dispose of benzoic acid as a hazardous waste. Contact your state’s Environmental Protection Agency for specific recommendations.
For more information on benzoic acid and other hazardous chemicals, browse our extensive library of MSDS information.