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Pyrophoric Chemicals

Pyrophoric chemicals are used in research to catalyze certain reactions and often are incorporated into final products. However, they pose significant physical hazards. They are liquids and solids that will ignite spontaneously in the presence of oxygen and water. They must have limited to no exposure to the atmosphere. Exposure of these reagents to air could result in spontaneous ignition that could cause burns or other injuries to the person handling the reagent or others in the immediate area.  In addition, all combustible materials, including paper products such as kimwipes, should not be allowed to come in contact with any pyrophoric reagent at any time.​  It is essential that laboratory personnel receive proper training and wear proper personal protective equipment when working with pyrophoric chemicals.

Common Pyrophoric Chemicals
State of Matter Class Chemical Examples
Liquids and Solutions​ Organolithiums, "Grignard Reagents" ​Alkyl and Aryl Lithiums, Lithium Amides, sec-Butylithiums, tert-Butylithiums, Lithium Acetylide
Organozincs Diethylzinc
Aluminum Alkyls Trimethylaluminum, Diisobutylaluminum
Metal Carbonyls Nickel Carbonyl, Iron Pentacarbonyl
Solids (May Also Come As Solutions) Metal Hydrides ​Sodium Hydride, Potassium Hydride, Lithium Aluminum Hydride
​Finely Divided Metals Bismuth, Calcium, Magnesium, Titanium, Zinc, Zirconium
Used Hydrogenation Catalyst Raney Nickel, Palladium on Carbon
Gases ​n/a ​Silane, Diborane, Phosphine

How To Protect Yourself

Eye Protection

Safety glasses that meet the ANSI Z.87 Standard should be worn whenever handling pyrophoric chemicals. Ordinary prescription glasses will NOT provide adequate protection unless they also meet this standard. Safety glasses must be equipped with side shields if there is a possibility of flying particles (i.e., glass, plastics).  When there is the potential eye/face protection should be worn in the form of goggles in combination with a face shield.

Skin Protection

Gloves must be worn when handling pyrophoric chemicals - flame retardant gloves should be used when handling most of these in general laboratory settings.  An Safety Data Sheet (SDS) should be reviewed if handling may involve extended or high exposures to lab personnel to ensure adequate protection is provided.

In addition a flame-retardant lab coat or apron is required in addition to common clothing and closed toed shoe recommendations in the research lab.

Shipping and Handling

A glove box may be used with pyrophoric material if an inert environment is required or a glove bag in the event a glove box is not available.  The lab principal investigator and/or designated safety officer are responsible for ensuring that you are trained and competent in using a glove box.   

If the potential exists for an explosion or a high thermal reaction, additional blast shielding should be utilized. This may involve the use of shielding in a glove box or keeping a fume hood sash in the lowest possible position.  Portable shields may also be used for additional protection.

Storage

Store pyrophoric material away from heat/flames, oxidizers, water sources, and normal oxygen atmosphere environments if outside of the manufacturer provided container.  Keep containers closed and ensure that manufacturer's labels and warnings remain intact.  Check the SDS for incompatibilities when storing pyrophorics.

Spill

In the event of a spill or adverse reaction, notify lab personnel immediately that an incident has occurred. Do not attempt to handle a large spill/reaction/fire, or one in which you are not trained or equipped. Turn off all ignition sources if this can be done safely, vacate the area and call for assistance.

Laboratory emergencies should be reported to the campus emergency services at 607-255-1111 or by calling 911.  When reporting the emergency try to provide the following information:

  • Location of spill/incident
  • Type of material involved and quantity
  • Injuries involved
  • Fire/explosion
  • Your location/contact information (or who to contact for further information)

Waste Disposal Requirements

Handling and disposal of pyrophoric chemicals should be in accordance with hazardous waste disposal procedures.  Beyond that, removal of potentially pyrophoric material from a glove box may involve quenching material.  Check with the principal investigator for assistance with quenching/disposing of waste or email EHS at askEHS@cornell.edu.

Waste Pickups

Please refer to the following link to submit a waste pickup.

Training

Training is offered through the Cornell University EHS Department's training platform, CU Learn.