Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Who knew it was illegal to have 20% sulfuric acid in the UK?

Via Chemistry World (article by Maria Burke): 

A 29-year-old man living in Knutsford, Cheshire, has been found guilty of possessing hydrochloric and sulfuric acids without a licence. The case raises questions about the responsibilities of wholesalers selling regulated chemicals to members of the public.

Concentrated hydrochloric and sulfuric acids are regulated because they can be used in the illicit manufacture of explosives or to cause harm. In November 2018, it became a criminal offence in the UK to possess sulfuric acid above a concentration of 15% without a licence. The law was tightened to combat rising acid attacks across the country. In October last year, hydrochloric acid above 10% w/w was among several chemicals added to the list of regulated substances. Others include hexamine, phosphoric acid (above 30% w/w) and zinc phosphide.

In a raid last November, police found a ‘makeshift chemistry lab’ in the bedroom of Ashlea Henderson. According to police reports, this consisted of 21 unknown chemicals, both in and out of their containers, along with a range of equipment. As a precautionary measure the police evacuated over 100 households and called in the bomb squad. It was seven hours before residents could return to their homes.

It is interesting to me that the phenomenon of home chemists exists outside the United States (this is the first report I've seen in 10+ years.) Nevertheless, I had not idea such legal strictures existed in the UK. 

It seems to me that some enterprising small laboratory could make a bit of money by renting out a bit of space to local men who were interested in doing home chemistry, but I suspect that the legal risk would outweigh any revenue.  


  1. this is nonsense: acid for regular lead car battery is 30-48% H2SO4

  2. This is indeed a bit absurd. As a teenager I used to buy >85% sulfuric acid from the hardware store sold as drain cleaner. Used it in electrolyte for copper plating things (a quarter coated in copper looks pretty neat btw) among other experiments. You can heat it to drive it closer to 98% which worked for nitrations. I'm sad our societies have become so phobic of that type of curiosity and exploration. No wonders so many people are anti-intellectual and scientifically illiterate when scientists are not even able to understand why someone would find wonder in science!

  3. I occasionally had trouble getting my employer to ship chemical samples to customers with legitimate one-man businesses operating out of a residential address. We would get around it by arranging for a friend or client of the individual to receive the package at a business address. The products involved were coatings/adhesives raw materials with no nefarious uses.

  4. I'm glad to live in America, where I can buy acids at the hardware store. I do hope the custom of acid attacks doesn't catch on here: if we go the same way, it'll be a lot harder to teach chemistry.


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