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8.6 Oxidizers and Organic Peroxides

The OSHA Laboratory Standard defines an oxidizer as “a chemical other than a blasting agent or explosive that initiates or promotes combustion in other materials, thereby causing fire either of itself or through the release of oxygen or other gases.” Under the DOT hazard class system, oxidizers are listed as hazard class 5.1 and organic peroxides are listed as hazard class 5.2.

The OSHA Laboratory Standard defines an organic peroxide as “an organic compound that contains the bivalent –O-O- structure and which may be considered to be a structural derivative of hydrogen peroxide where one or both of the hydrogen atoms have been replaced by an organic radical.”

Oxidizers and organic peroxides are a concern for laboratory safety due to their ability to promote and enhance the potential for fires in labs.

As a reminder of the fire triangle (now referred to as the fire tetrahedron), in order to have a fire, you need:

  • A fuel source.
  • An oxygen source.
  • An ignition source.
  • A chemical reaction.

Oxidizers can supply the oxygen needed for the fire, whereas organic peroxides supply both the oxygen and the fuel source. Both oxidizers and organic peroxides may become shock sensitive when they dry out, are stored in sunlight, or due to contamination with other materials, particularly when contaminated with heavy metals. Most organic peroxides are also temperature sensitive.

As with any chemicals, but particularly with oxidizers and organic peroxides, quantities stored on hand should be kept to a minimum. Whenever planning an experiment, be sure to read the SDS and other reference documents to understand the hazards and special handling precautions that may be required, including use of a safety shield. Also be aware of the melting and autoignition temperatures for these compounds and ensure any device used to heat oxidizers has an overtemperature safety switch to prevent the compounds from overheating.

Laboratory staff should be particularly careful when handling oxidizers (especially high surface area oxidizers such as finely divided powders) around organic materials.

Avoid using metal objects when stirring or removing oxidizers or organic peroxides from chemical containers. Plastic or ceramic implements should be used instead. Laboratory personnel should avoid friction, grinding, and impact with solid oxidizers and organic peroxides. Glass stoppers and screw cap lids should always be avoided and plastic/polyethylene lined bottles and caps should be used instead.

If you suspect your oxidizer or organic peroxide has been contaminated (evident by discoloration of the chemical, or if there is crystalline growth in the container or around the cap), then dispose of the chemical as hazardous waste or contact EHS at 607-255-8200. Indicate on the hazardous waste tag that the chemical is an oxidizer or organic peroxide and that you suspect contamination.