Our most recent blog posts have focused on key points our fire protection consultants picked up at the NFPA national conference in Chicago this past June. One of our newest consultants, Rob McFeaters, attended a session called “Management of Time Sensitive Reactive and Unstable Chemicals” by Andrew Minister, Chief Fire Protection Engineer with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Compared to other sessions Rob attended at NFPA, which concentrated on large scale fires and explosions, Mr. Minister’s session focused on the often overlooked subject of lab-scale operations. Due to the nature of lab-scale work, the use and storage times of materials can be much longer than those of large scale operations. Costly reagents with low usage rates often have long storage times between uses. Mr. Minister presented on the hazards and costs of time sensitive reactive chemicals.

Dangers of Peroxide Forming Compounds

The main class of chemical covered during the session was peroxide forming compounds. According to Mr. Minister, some chemicals will form explosive peroxides over time, which can become sensitive to shock, light, and heat. The speed and degree to which these explosive peroxides form is unique to each chemical.

The key to reducing such a hazard, according to Mr. Minister, is through information. The most important step is to have the knowledge to identify the time sensitive chemicals. Therefore, it is important to track and control procurement as the first line of defense. Mr. Minister shared several incidents in which a reagent bottle had been forgotten and left in storage for several years before an incident occurred. A reliable procurement and tracking system is vital to the control of peroxide forming compounds. In addition, the proper storage conditions will extend the lifetime of the chemicals and reduce the rate at which peroxides are formed. Oftentimes, information concerning storage can be found on the material safety datasheet (MSDS) for the particular compound.

In addition to the hazard of explosion, once peroxides have formed in significant amounts, the cost for disposal becomes much greater. Therefore, an effective tracking system can result in avoidance of costly disposal, as well as a safer workplace.

Best Tips for Handling Reactive Substances

The best tips for handling reactive substances, according to Mr. Minister are:

  • Identify chemicals that are potential peroxide forming compounds
  • Know the nature of the compound; timelines for disposal depend on storage conditions such as temperature, exposure to light, exposure to air, and the presence of inhibitors.
  • Track and manage the inventory of chemicals
    • Tips for tracking time sensitive chemicals: know where they are located; containers should be dated when they are received; log chemical inspection dates into a database; discard chemicals before expiration dates.
    • Tips for managing time sensitive chemicals: define the inspection frequency for each chemical and track it in a database; visually inspect containers for signs of peroxide formation before handling; know how to test for peroxide level.
    • Perform testing when shelf-life is nearing its end
    • Have an established disposal procedure for peroxide forming compounds

By properly storing and monitoring reactive chemicals, expensive disposal, as well as hazardous reactions, can be avoided.

By Jeff Harrington, CEO and Founder of Harrington Group, Inc.