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What harm does an alkaline attack do and should it be treated immediately?

Yahoo News UK explains the dangers surrounding a corrosive substance attack.

alkaline Literal use for industrial and safety or conceptual use for risk or toxic relationship
An attack with a corrosive substance such as acid or alkaline can cause extreme pain, disfigurement and even death. (Getty)

Police have launched an investigation following an alkaline attack on a mother and her two young children.

Officers responded to the incident in Lessar Avenue near Clapham Common in south London at about 7.25pm on Wednesday. The Metropolitan Police said the 31-year-old woman and her three-year-old daughter, alongside her other daughter, aged eight, remain in hospital following the incident in south London on Wednesday. The woman and her younger daughter suffered potentially life-changing injuries.

A manhunt is now under way for the “dangerous” suspect, who is believed to be known to the mother, after he also allegedly threw the younger child to the ground.

The Met said an alkaline substance was used by the man, who fled the scene before he could be arrested, in the “targeted” attack.

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What is an alkaline attack?

An alkaline attack is the premeditated act of throwing the corrosive fluid onto the face and body, with the intent to cause serious harm or kill the victim. While alkaline is not the same as acid, both are corrosive substances and can cause substantial pain, disfigurement, blindness, disability or even death.

An alkaline attack will be just as harmful as an acid attack. Examples of an alkali include sodium hydroxide – commonly known as caustic soda – which can be found in several cleaning products.

Hydrochloric or sulphuric acid are the most common types of corrosive liquids used in an acid attack. Sulphuric acid is used for things like batteries and fertilisers. It is highly corrosive and, like alkaline, is highly dangerous when it comes into contact with skin

How to treat a corrosive substance attack

Urgent medical attention should be sought as quickly as possibly after a corrosive substance attack. You, or someone with you, should call 999 immediately and ask for urgent help.

There are things that can be done to help prevent severe injuries from a substance attack while waiting for an ambulance. If possible, try to remove the chemical and any clothing that has been contaminated, before rinsing the affected area with clean water.

While removing the chemical from clothing, skin and eyes, it is important not to touch it or spread the chemical anywhere else by wiping it. Gloves should be used to protect your hands and clothing should be removed by cutting rather than pulling off.

Water used to rinse the affected areas should be allowed to run off without collecting and pooling on the skin. You should stay on the phone with the 999 handler for constant advice.

Police at the scene in Lessar Avenue near Clapham Common, south London, where a woman and her two young children have been taken to hospital after a man threw a suspected corrosive substance on Wednesday evening. Three other members of the public were also taken to hospital with injuries thought to have been suffered as they came to the aid of the woman and her children. Picture date: Thursday February 1, 2024.
Police at the scene in Lessar Avenue near Clapham Common, south London, the scene of an alkaline attack on Wednesday evening. (PA)

What does the law say?

While there is not a specific acid attack law that comes with its own raft of sentencing, the law does cover – and punish – those found guilty of carrying out one. The Offences Against The Person Act 1861 set out law surrounding wounding or causing grievous bodily harm (GBH) with intent.

Acid attacks would come under the GBH with intent category and that comes with a maximum life sentence of life imprisonment.

The Prevention of Crime Act 1953 also covers the possession of acid or corrosive substances. Anyone caught carrying them in a public place with the intent to cause harm could also be prosecuted for possession of an offensive weapon, which carried a maximum penalty of four years in prison.

Adults convicted of carrying a corrosive substance for a second time will receive a minimum prison term of six months. Those under 18 will be handed a four-month detention and training order.

Katie Piper poses for photographers upon arrival at the British Fashion Awards on Monday, Dec. 4, 2023 in London. (Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP)
Katie Piper was the victim of an acid attack in 2008. (PA)

In light of high-profile acid attacks like the one suffered by Katie Piper in March 2008, the government acted to introduce changes to the Poisons Act. People in the UK are now banned from possessing strong sulphuric acts without a valid reason and anyone wishing to import or use sulphuric acid above 15% needs a licence from the Home Office.

Those without a licence can receive a 24-month jail sentence and an unlimited fine. Cleaning companies who require acid for professional reasons do not need a licence but employees must show ID and businesses are obliged to report any suspicious transactions, losses of thefts.

The Offensive Weapons Act 2019 also bans the possession of dangerous and offensive weapons in private, including corrosive substances.

Arthur Collins sentenced to a further eight months in prison after smuggling mobile phone
Arthur Collins was jailed after throwing acid in a packed nightclub. (Yahoo Celebrity)

High-profile incidents

Perhaps the most well-known acid attack was on model Piper, who was attacked by her ex-boyfriend and an accomplice, which resulted in major damage to her face and blindness in one eye. Both of the attackers were given life sentences.

Piper gave up her right to anonymity in 2009, and has campaigned to raise awareness about burn victims. She has gone on to write a best-selling autobiography and has made documentaries about her experience.

In 2017, Arthur Collins, the ex-boyfriend of reality star Ferne McCann, threw acid across a packed dance floor at Mangle nightclub in Dalston, east London, during a night out.

He claimed he threw the substance by mistake after hearing a group of men planning to spike a woman’s drink with a date rape drug. But a jury found him guilty of five counts of GBH with intent and nine counts of actual bodily harm against 14 people. Collins was sentenced to 20 years in jail.