SAFE HANDLING OF REACTIVE AND
PEROXIDE FORMING CHEMICALS

Reactive chemicals are chemicals that react vigorously with moisture or oxygen or other substances.  Reactive chemical hazards invariably involve the release of energy in a quantity or at a rate too great to be dissipated by the immediate environment.  If the heat evolved in a reaction is not dissipated, the reaction can increase until an explosion results.

At the University of the Sciences, a reactive chemical is one which is:

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described as such in the MSDS
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is ranked by the NFPA as 3 or 4 for reactivity
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is identified by the Department of Transportation (DOT) as:

an oxidizer

an organic peroxide

an explosive, Class A, B, or C

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fits the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) definition of reactive in 40 CFR 261.23
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fits the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) definition of unstable in 29 CFR 1910.1450
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is known or found to be reactive with other substances

(View a List of Chemicals which may form peroxides in the Appendix)

Organic peroxides are a special class of compounds that have unusual stability problems that make them among the most hazardous substances normally handled in laboratories.   Peroxide formation has been responsible for many serious explosions.  Under normal storage conditions, some chemicals can form and accumulate peroxides which explode violently when shocked or heated. 

The following guidelines should be observed if these chemicals are stored or used in the laboratory:

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Label peroxidizable compounds with the date received and the date opened.
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When possible, purchase peroxidizable compounds with inhibitors incorporated into them.
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Store containers away from heat sources and light.  Store in a cool and dry location.
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Never return excess chemicals to the original container.  Small amounts of impurities may be introduced into the container that may cause a fire or explosion.
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The quantity of reactives should be limited to the minimum amount required.  Dispose of all reactive chemicals whenever they are no longer required for current research.  Dispose of any container that exhibits salt build-up on its exterior.
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Reactive chemicals should be handled in a fume hood.  Many reactive liquids will ignite or liberate combustible gas when exposed to water vapor or air.   A glove box may be used to handle reactive chemicals if an inert or dry atmosphere is required.
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Metal spatulas should not be used to handle peroxides because contamination by metals can lead to explosive decomposition.  Ceramic, plastic, or wooden spatulas may be used.
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Friction, grinding, and all forms of impact should be avoided near peroxides.  Glass containers that have metal screw-cap lids or glass stoppers should not be used.

(Additional information on the storage procedures for peroxide formers and shock sensitive chemicals in Section V)


University of the Sciences in Philadelphia • 600 South Forty-third Street • Philadelphia, PA 19104-4495 • phone: 215-596-8800 • email: safety@usp.edu