In lead-acid batteries, acid, as the name suggests, is one of the most important parts of keeping the battery operating but it can also cause serious injury or death. Battery acid is a crucial but little-understood part of a lead-acid battery-powered electrical system. Let’s shine a light on this vital substance and take a look at the future of battery tech that is doing away with this danger.
What Is Battery Acid Made Of?
Battery acid for automotive or marine batteries is typically a diluted sulfuric acid solution (H2SO4). Most will use a concentration of 30-50% acid mixed with 50-70% distilled water. Manufacturers use sulfuric acid because it works particularly well for the chemical reaction required to create electricity with lead.
The chemical reaction that is happening is Pb + PbO2 +2H2SO4 → 2PbSO4 + 2H2O. All the hydrogens in this reaction are what become the acid. As the battery gets charged, the acid becomes stronger, and as it discharges it becomes more inert.
When Would You Come Into Contact With Battery Acid?
Any time you are around or using lead-acid batteries you might find yourself in contact with battery acid. It’s most common for those who use flooded lead-acid batteries, the cheapest and oldest style of automotive, RV, and marine power. These must be periodically opened up and topped off with water to ensure the acid remains at the proper level for optimal function.
AGM battery users may also come into contact with acid. While AGM batteries are sealed and don’t require top-offs like flooded lead-acid ones, they still contain harmful chemicals. If they’re punctured or damaged, this acid can leak out. The same risk is, of course, present for traditional flooded lead-acid batteries, too.
The Dangers of Battery Acid
Make no mistake about it; battery acid can be harmful to your health in ways both minor and potentially severe. Here are some of the biggest hazards to be aware of.
Breathing in Lead
Sulfuric acid is nasty stuff, even when diluted to the levels used in a battery. Fumes from batteries contain traces of lead and other harsh chemicals, which can sometimes cause significant breathing discomfort in the short term. In the long run, exposure to these chemicals within the airways can cause tooth decay, increase the risk of certain types of cancer, and are known to cause early cognitive decline.
Severe Skin Damage
Spilling battery acid onto your skin or otherwise exposing your body to it is another potentially serious hazard. Exposure will result in chemical burns, which cause significant and permanent skin damage. Even worse, contact with the eyes can lead to severe eye issues and blindness. With skin exposure, it’s crucial to clean and treat the area as quickly as possible as damage will continue as long as acid is present.
If battery acid is dangerous enough to permanently burn your skin, imagine what it can do to the sensitive systems inside your body. Ingesting battery acid will lead to difficulty breathing, severe pain, burns to the mouth and throat, fever, and other issues. In addition, damage can continue for days or even weeks after ingesting acid, potentially leading to infections or the need to remove damaged parts of the stomach or digestive tract.