Development of a novel method to reduce the impact of cutaneous chemical attack

Stefan Davis, Will Wise, Anthony D Covington, James Petter (Editor), Paul Reip (Editor)

Research output: Contribution to ConferencePaper


Chemical attacks are a global problem: from 2011 to 2016 there were 1,464 incidents involving a corrosive substance in London alone. The most common chemicals used in these attacks are sulfuric, nitric and hydrochloric acids. Concentrated solutions of strongly alkaline substances including sodium hydroxide and sodium hypochlorite are also used.

Current first-aid advice suggests diluting the exposed area with water and transfer to a hospital for further treatment. An immediate neutralisation treatment is avoided as incorrect identification of the corrosive could worsen the damage. In addition, there are concerns the enthalpy of solvation and neutralisation causes secondary burns. These limitations demonstrate the need for an amphoteric neutralising treatment with a low enthalpy of neutralisation.

Aqueous formulations of natural water-based surfactants with natural plant-based substances have been trialled as neutralisers of sulfuric acid, sodium hydroxide and sodium hypochlorite. pH titrations demonstrated that the natural formulations are amphoteric, capable of effectively neutralising acidic and alkaline corrosives with minimal heat of neutralisation and no gas evolution. In addition, the studies have shown that the formulations can reduce oxidising compounds such as sodium hypochlorite.

The experiments compared intact collagen with attacked but untreated collagen and collagen that had a corrosive applied but followed by treatment at different time intervals. Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) showed the reaction with concentrated sulfuric acid is rapid; significant collapse and gelatinisation of the fibre structure was observed within 5 seconds.

Pigskin was utilised to model human skin: the observations demonstrated the importance of the epidermis in protecting the skin from chemical damage. Five minutes exposure to sulfuric acid, sodium hydroxide and sodium hypochlorite did not penetrate the epidermis, although damage was observed.

The formulations of natural products recently tested at the University of Northampton have been shown to mitigate secondary chemical burns, whereas treatment with water alone resulted in secondary burns due to residual corrosive in the skin structure not being neutralised. The trials indicate that the product could be usefully applied by first responders and emergency services personnel.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 25 Jun 2019
EventIULTCS Congress 2019: "Benign by design" - Leather, the future through science and technology - Dresden, Germany
Duration: 25 Jun 201928 Jun 2019
Conference number: XXXV


ConferenceIULTCS Congress 2019
Internet address


  • chemical attack


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