Engineering Sodium Sulfate Safety in Usage and Structures

Sodium sulfate is largely considered non-toxic and has many applications without significant safety rating concerns. However, every chemical compound has its limitations and safety considerations, and should be handled carefully with the respective safety gear recommended by the MSDS.

Why Sodium Sulfate is Considered Non-Toxic

Sodium sulfate is not considered dangerous under normal circumstances. It is not flammable, which is a major factor in determining risk, since there are always heat sources and points of friction during manufacturing, storage and transport of chemicals. Another reason this chemical is not considered toxic is that it does not react dangerously to air or water, provoking exothermic or endothermic reactions. There are no issues with transport, and sodium sulfate has no official Risk Phrases or S-phrases associated with it.

Inhalation

Although it is technically not a dangerous chemical, people must still take care while handling sodium sulfate. The main concern with humans is that it is an irritant, especially to the lungs, eyes and other mucous membranes. Temporary asthma symptoms are common among those that have inhaled large quantities of sodium sulfate in its powdered form. When working with the compound industrially, in the lab or at home, proper precautions for handling sodium sulfate include wearing a mask and some form of eye protection, such as goggles.

Ingestion and Internal Concerns

Sodium sulfate, in a form known as Glauber’s salt, was used as a laxative and medicine for many years, so it is non-toxic in small quantities. Sodium sulfate is still found in prescription laxatives, but ingestion of large quantities could cause great abdominal discomfort, diarrhea and dehydration. It is also used to remove acetaminophen and other chemicals from the body in cases of overdose and as an additive to cattle feed. Anhydrous sodium sulfate is known for its moisture-absorption properties, so if it is taken internally it would cause fluid and electrolyte imbalances.

Corrosive Qualities and Concerns

One of the main issues with sodium sulfate is its ability to damage stone structures. Salt is said to “eat” structures, but the process is a little more elegant than that. Sodium sulfate is of a particular threat to structures because of its ability to change from thenardite (anhydrous – with no water) to mirabilite (hydrated form), and back again. This occurs because the compound is highly soluble in water, and distributes water evenly throughout the compound. If temperature and humidity conditions cause this to happen repeatedly, the expansion and contraction can cause damage to the stone.

Chemical Cousin Sodium Lauryl Sulfates

Related compounds, such as sodium lauryl sulfate, do present significant safety concerns to humans who come in close contact with them on a regular basis. Sodium lauryl sulfates are widely used in household cleaning products, toothpaste, shampoos, and various soaps. Ingestion of excessive quantities needs immediate medical attention, and repeated exposure, such as by those working in a factory setting, requires protective gear. Everyday exposure to sodium lauryl sulfates was once considered safe, but this has changed recently with long-term study.

Although sodium sulfate is “technically” a non-toxic and safe chemical compound, it does have many contraindications for close contact and extended direct exposure. It is a very useful substance that is utilized widely in various industries, but sodium sulfate safety precautions should always be observed when handling, using or storing it.