Pyrophoric chemicals are those which will ignite spontaneously in air at 130oF (54.4oC) or below. Often, pyrophores ignite in air due to a vigorous reaction with oxygen or water vapor. Examples include organolithium compounds, silanes, and alkali metals. Due to the difficulty of keeping these compounds isolated from the air, and the potential consequences of spontaneous ignition, special administrative controls, engineering controls, PPE, and laboratory methods are required when handling them.
The following safety guidelines must be adhered to when working with pyrophores.
Storage and Use
- Store pyrophoric chemicals under inert gas, mineral oil, or another material which will insulate the pyrophore from exposure to air or water.
- Store the pyrophore in a separate location from other chemicals.
- Use the smallest amount possible to achieve the desired result.
- Use pyrophores in a fume hood sash lowered and additional safety shielding whenever practical.
- Work should be performed within arm’s reach of suitable extinguishing media. For liquids this is likely an ABC fire extinguisher. For flammable metals this is a Class D fire extinguisher.
- Wear a fire resistant lab coat. These coats are generally blue.
- If working in a system where explosion is possible, such as a vacuum line, face shields are required.
- Keep spill containment equipment close at hand while working.
For detailed information on handling and use of pyrophoric material, refer to these external resources:
Sigma-Aldrich – Handling Air-Sensitive Reagents
Sigma-Aldrich – Handling Pyrophoric Reagents
University of Nottingham – Guidelines for Handling Air-sensitive Compounds
University of California San Diego – Transferring Pyrophoric Liquids
Severe skin irritation and burns will occur if pyrophoric liquids are not removed from the skin immediately after exposure. These reagents are also highly irritating to the respiratory tract and at low vapor concentrations. If exposure occurs, rinse the affected area in the sink, eyewash station, or safety shower as appropriate. Rinsing should occur for 15-20 minutes. Afterward, immediately seek medical attention.