UCLA Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
Chemical Safety Office
|FIRES AND FLOODS
|Lab fire caused by potassium ignition!||
|A researcher in Young Hall was slightly injured while performing an
experiment on Saturday, July 17, 1999. He had been heating Potassium (K) in an evacuated
tube, when the tube cracked, and the potassium started to smoke. He then tried to quench
it in an isopropanol bath on the bench top. A large piece of potassium flaked off and ignited
the isopropanol bath. According to the researcher, "a fireball hit me, and my arm caught on
fire". Fortunately, he put out the fire on his arm immediately and wasn't injured. The
sprinkler system in the building was activated and extinguished the remaining fire in the
isopropanol bath. The fire alarm was sounded and Los Angeles Fire Department, the UCLA Haz
Mat team, and the UCLA paramedics responded promply.|
|The water from the sprinkler system flooded four labs and office and computer
spaces in lower floors in Young Hall, causing heavy damage to computers, notebooks, journals,
|What lessons can be learned from this fire?|
|ALWAYS quench alkalik metals in a fume hood!|
|When quenching potassium, start out with a mild quenching agent, such as
|Plan ahead for possible emergencies! Poor housekeeping can contribute to the
spread of fire. A laboratory fire can spread rapidly, destroying research, notebooks, computers,
|Proper quenching techniques|
- Always quench in a fume hood.
- Remove any potentially flammable materials from the immediate area.
- Start by using a mild quenching agent, such as t-butanol. Add it to
the reactive metal slowly, with stirring. Hydrogen gas will be evolved.
- When metal no longer reacts with butanol, quench with isopropanol, then
ethanol, and finally methanol.
- Let mixture stand in the fume hood for several hours to ensure complete
- Dispose of mixture as hazardous waste.
|Consult Reference Books for more information. Two good ones are:|
|Linn, G., Sansone, E., Destruction of Hazardous Chemical in the Laboratory;
Wiley: New York, 1990.
||National Research Council, Committee on Prudent Practices for Handling, Storage, and
Disposal in the Laboratory. Prudent Practices in the Laboratory: Handling and Disposal of
Chemicals; National Academy Press; Washington, D.C., 1995|
|Remember that it is easier and safer to dispose of
reactive metals as Hazardous Waste. Cover the metal with dry mineral oil and fill out a Hazardous
Waste tag. Bring the Hazardous Waste to the Chemical Safety Office at Molecular Sciences, 2104.
||At least two incidents recently have been reported in which laboratories were flooded
by labs above them, both in Young Hall and Molecular Sciences. Improper fastening of tubing was to blame
in both incidents. Because the water pressure fluctuates overnight, tubing used for cooling must be
securely fastened onto the equipment and on the plumbing fixture. A number of methods have been used
- Wire tightly wrapped around apparatus and connection is a dependable method. Wire can be doubled for
extra precaution. Wire should be wrapped tightly with a pair of pliers.
- Vacuum tubing clamps can be used for securing heavy walled rubber tubing.
- Pressure regulators can reduce the water pressure.
- 4. A controller that shuts down the power to the apparatus in case of water failure is available from
Keith Stabe in the Microelectronics Shop.
|Any leaking connections should be corrected before starting the experiment.|
|At any sign of flooding or water leakage, call the Department Mail and Information desk at ext. 5-4219 or, after hours,
call Facilities Trouble Desk, at ext. 5-8406|
|Bill Peck, Chemical Safety Officer 4204 Young Hall, Ext. 6-3661|