The Facts about Aluminum Sulfate

Aluminum sulfate is a stable chemical compound which has many commercial uses. It occurs naturally in the area of volcanos or in burning slag heaps near coal mines. It has properties which cause it to foam when mixed with other chemicals and it also may be used as a coagulant since it binds with impurities in water and other liquids causing the impurities to fall to the bottom as sediment.

Properties of Aluminum Sulfate

This chemical is a white crystalline substance which is readily soluble in water, but insoluble in alcohol. When burned at temperatures above 770 degrees centigrade it decomposes to aluminum oxide and gives off toxic, corrosive fumes. Dissolved in water, it creates acidic solutions which will corrode metals. Except in the presence of intense heat, it is non toxic to humans but it may present hazards to the environment.

Adverse Effects

Although non toxic, aluminum sulfate dust can cause irritation to the eyes, nose, mouth and throat if inhaled. Flushing with large amounts of water will ease uncomfortable symptoms of exposure. When ingested in large amounts it causes gastric irritation, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. It may also cause skin irritation and people handling the chemical are advised to use dust respirators, goggles or face shields and gloves as protection.

Creating the Chemical Compound

Manufacturers produce aluminum sulfate for commercial use by exposing hydrated aluminum oxide to sulfuric acid. Although the natural substance is a crystalline solid, it is hydrated to create a liquid product. The chemical has applications in many industries and is non flammable in both liquid and solid form. In solid form it may be incorrectly referred to as alum, but while it is related to alum it is chemically different.

Environmental Concerns

Most aluminum compounds differ from aluminum sulfate because they are not soluble in water. Releasing the chemical into water sources can have serious environmental effects because aluminum is toxic to fish. It also causes damage to the water resistant feathers and surface cells of gulls. The human body is unable to flush aluminum from the system and researchers believe that aluminum in drinking water may act as a carcinogen especially in people with impaired kidney function.

Proper Disposal Techniques

Disposal of aluminum sulfate is not regulated by the EPA which does not consider the chemical to be hazardous waste. Manufacturers of the chemical recommend that if it is disposed of in commercial sewers it be diluted with copious amounts of water. The compound can be neutralized with soda ash or lime, but it should not be released into waterways. Neutralizing the chemical releases large amounts of carbon dioxide and may create a breathing hazard.

Aluminum sulfate is available in liquid form and it has many commercial uses. Until the FDA removed it from the approved list in 2005, it was the active ingredient in many antiperspirants. While it is unclear if the substance has serious long term effects on humans, safety precautions and proper disposal methods should be used to protect workers and the environment.