Has your old, unused material become Explosive?

Published July 2016 by Darcie DeFoe

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UPDATED MARCH 2017

We are often asked to properly dispose of hazardous wastes that have collected over many years, for schools and all types of businesses. These are chemicals and products that were used for maintenance, or in a lab or classroom at one time, that have outlived their usefulness. These products often spend many years in a back room, storage closet, or shed, and aren’t easy to dispose of alongside standard trash items. It is important to safely and responsibly handle these products, as many product characteristics change over time and some even become unstable and explosive. Today we will share with you a specific type of compound that we come across quite often, that does just that.

WHAT IS A “PEROXIDE FORMING-COMPOUND?”

Peroxides are a class of chemical compounds with unusual stability problems and are one of the most hazardous classes of chemicals routinely handled in the laboratory.

Peroxides can be formed via intentional chemical reactions (i.e., ozonolysis), but just as hazardous is inadvertent peroxide formation during storage of certain compounds. Some compounds form explosive peroxides. Others are polymerizable unsaturated compounds that can participate in a runaway, explosive polymerization reaction catalyzed by peroxides. To varying degrees, shock, heat, or friction may cause unexpected explosion of peroxidized organic chemicals.
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We talked with Nick, one of our Environmental Specialists, and asked a few questions about benzoyl peroxide compounds and the proper way to handle hazardous waste disposal for these chemicals.

Where does this compound come from- why is it dangerous?

The product shown above was originally the cream hardener used to set automotive body filler. The primary active ingredient is an organic peroxide called Benzoyl Peroxide. This type of chemical, along with quite a few others, can form shock sensitive peroxide crystals as they age and dry out. Essentially, they turn into explosives over time. These aren’t stable explosives like C4 that require a large amount of energy to set them off though. They are very unstable and can explode seemingly spontaneously.

Are these compounds prevalent? Aside from the automotive body filler, what sort of products can this happen to?

I come across chemicals that we suspect have become explosive fairly regularly. In addition to automotive body filler, we see these types of chemicals in other common products. Many types of activators and catalysts for two part systems contain either benzoyl peroxide or methyl ethyl ketone peroxide, both of which can become unstable. In addition, there are a number of common laboratory solvents which can form unstable peroxide crystals. The two most common solvents we come across that exhibit these characteristics are tetrahydrofuran and ethyl ether.

What do you do when you arrive on a job site and find them?

When we encounter these materials we segregate them as safely as possible and work with the customer and a team of reactive specialists to safely remove the materials from the site.

What should our clients do if they find something like this or think they might have one of these compounds on site? How can they safely address this or identify a safety concern?

In the case of an emergency, they should always call 911. If it is a non-emergency situation, then we can help. It is important not to disturb the materials any more than necessary. I typically recommend that the area be quarantined to the best of the customer’s ability. Once you notify your TRC Environmental Representative, we will work to find a resolution ASAP.

Thanks, Nick. That was really helpful! 

If you have old material that is not being used at your facility, it is probably time to safely remove it! Click below to read the interview with one of our clients who had this waste in their facility. Find out how they were able to safely manage and properly dispose of it!

Interview – Safely Handling Hazardous Waste in Schools