Highly concentrated solutions of sulfuric acid are available to unclog drains. We have noted a substantial number of both accidental and intentional cutaneous burns caused by these agents.
A retrospective review was conducted of children and adults who sustained sulfuric acid burns over a 13-year period ending in May 1996. Reports of injuries related to drain cleaners filed with the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission between 1991 and 1995 were also reviewed.
Twenty-one patients (13 children, 8 adults) sustained cutaneous burns caused by concentrated sulfuric acid solutions. In 8 instances, the burn was accidental, whereas in 13 cases, sulfuric acid was used as a weapon. Median total body surface area burned was 5% (range, 1-25%). Approximately 50% of burns involved the face and neck. Skin grafting was required in 14 patients (66%). It is estimated that nationwide approximately 3,000 injuries per year are related to drain cleaners and that one-third of these involve cutaneous burns.
Highly concentrated sulfuric acid drain cleaner can produce full-thickness cutaneous burns that require skin grafting in the majority of cases. Proper use of these agents and sequestering them from children may reduce accidental contact; however, their abuse as agents of assault remains a source of significant morbidity.