Stop the acid attacks: an investigation by Professor Tony Covington

Date 11.11.2015

Professor Tony Covington, emeritus Professor of Leather Science in the Institute for Creative Leather Technologies, recently helped the Daily Express to explore the devastating injuries that can be caused by sulphuric acid. Here, Professor Covington shares his views surrounding restrictions on the product’s sale, in support of the Daily Express’ campaign and petition.

“The Daily Express is currently investigating the crime of human acid attacks together with the ease of which such corrosive chemicals can be purchased via the internet. On Thursday, two journalists visited the Institute for Creative Leather Technology to see for themselves the effects of acid on skin structure*.  Our results can be seen on the Daily Express website.

“The journalists brought along concentrated sulphuric acid which had been purchased via the internet. The half-litre of highly corrosive genuine product arrived through the post, packaged only in a cardboard box and held within a plastic posting bag. This demonstrated a shocking disregard of the rules governing the transport of corrosive chemicals, and the product posed a high risk to all who handled the parcel.

Sulphuric Acid bottle

“First, I demonstrated the effect of diluting concentrated acid with water, causing a rapid rise in temperature: it is easily possible to make the solution boil.  The consequence for acid throwing is that the interaction of the acid with water in the skin (about 60 per cent) causes a rise in temperature, which accelerates the corrosive effect. Also, heating skin above the denaturation temperature of 65oc causes the structure to break down and the skin shrinks, the effect well known in scalding.

“The second demonstration was of the accompanying effects of acid to cause the skin to swell in thickness, to shrink in area and decompose chemically, although the two former effects are immediately visible, the latter damage is not obvious. The observable changes are very fast, happening within a few seconds of contact between the acid and the skin and cause pronounced puckering, which would lead to breaks in the skin in an attack. The damaging reactions are not reversible and the skin is effectively killed.

“It is clear that the concentrated acid is too easily available to anyone with access to the internet.  Some restrictions of the sale must be put in place; there can be few situations in which members of the public would need concentrated sulphuric acid.  At the very least, such non-commercial sales should be restricted to acid which has been diluted to a point so that it does not heat up upon further dilution, perhaps the concentration of battery acid at 30-35%: this would eliminate the danger of heat generation on contact with the skin and slow considerably the processes of chemical damage.”

You can sign the Daily Express petition online.

*please note that raw sheep skin was used for the demonstration. This is sourced as a by-product of the meat industry.