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How Proper Chemical Hazard Characterization Impacts Process Safety

Posted by Sara Peters on 04.02.19

By Sara Peters, Customer Outreach & Digital Media Specialist, Fauske & Associates, LLC 


flasks chemical process safetyA situation that had the potential to lead to an incident that was recently avoided at a college laboratory serves as a reminder that understanding the hazards associated with chemicals and assuring proper storage and handling is essential to the safety plan for any industry incorporating chemical use, no matter the scale, as regular practice.  It is also a critical part of any material testing plan enlisted to determine critical process parameters to avoid or mitigate unwanted reactivity and identify reactive chemical hazards and thermal instability for storage or transportation.

Visions of the classic high school experiment gone wrong were conjured up by the title of this article; the one where two incompatible liquids are accidentally combined leading to a violent reaction. In this instance however, it wasn’t an erroneous mixture exploding that caused alarm. Instead, an expired solvent, tetrahydrofuran, was found to pose a stability hazard due to the formation of highly explosive peroxides resulting from prolonged storage.  It subsequently had to be removed from the facility by the fire department, police, and a bomb squad.

“This article is interesting, especially to us, for a number of reasons,” explains Ken Kurko, Chief Technology Officer, Fauske and Associates, LLC.  “First of all, I think of the tremendous job that each and every one of our laboratory personnel does at maintaining our chemical inventory.  When chemicals are received for a project that involves testing, each sample is labeled with a project number and the date received and stored in an appropriate location.  All Safety Data Sheets (SDS) are stored in a central location.  A chemical inventory detailing sample identification, quantity, date received, and storage location is kept for all chemicals received.  The inventory is periodically purged as projects are completed.  This procedure helps us avoid these specific types of issues.”

“Secondly," continues Kurko, "the technical aspect of this article is intriguing.  The formation of peroxides within tetrahydrofuran is typically inhibited with BHT.  The problem that arises is that the inhibitor inevitably loses its effectiveness over time.  The interesting part is that we have the ability to study these types of reactivity issues with a combination of calorimetry and data analysis techniques.  A similar issue that comes to mind is the effectiveness of inhibitors at preventing the autopolymerization of monomers during prolonged storage.”

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When using chemicals it is paramount to recognize that each has its own unique characteristics and hazards that need to be considered as part of the safe handling practice.  Some of this information is provided on the chemical’s SDS, including:

  • Toxicity including health hazards & routes of entry
  • Corrosive properties
  • Reactivity with air, water, or moisture
  • Volatility

More specific information regarding the reactivity, flammability, or explosivity of gases, liquids, and solids can be gleaned through testing with a qualified laboratory.  Such a laboratory must have proper administrative and engineering controls in place to ensure proper material handling during storage and at desired test conditions, as well as safe disposal of all reaction and decomposition products that result.

Understanding that chemical process safety affects everyone, the Fauske & Associates, LLC (FAI) team is committed to a culture of safety and happy to assist with your chemical hazard identification and characterization and process safety management needs.

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Topics: process safety, process hazard, chemical


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