Spontaneously Combustible

Spontaneously Combustible material is:

  • Pyrophoric Material: A liquid or solid that even in small quantities and without an external ignition source can ignite after coming in contact with the oxygen. Two common examples are tert-Butyllithium under Hexanes and White Phosphorus.
  • Self-Heating Material: A liquid or solid, other than a pyrophoric substance, which, by reaction with oxygen and without energy supply, is liable to self-heat.

In addition to the hazard of the spontaneously combustible chemical itself, many of these chemicals are also stored under flammable liquids. In the event of an accident, such as a bottle being knocked off a shelf, the chemical can spontaneously ignite and a fire can occur. Extra care must be taken when handling spontaneously combustible chemicals. Always follow proper procedures to avoid exposing spontaneously combustible materials to air and wear proper PPE, including a fire-resistant lab coat. Special “Class D” fire extinguishers are required for use with spontaneously combustible materials. See Appendix F for information on how to quench spontaneously combustible materials and Emergency Response.

Handling Guidelines

The following additional procedures are recommended for handling pyrophoric or self-heating materials:

  • Always use the smallest quantity of the chemical possible.
    • Check with your PI and perform a risk assessment of scaled up reactions.
  • An SOP and Risk Assessment should be prepared for each process involving pyrophoric or water-reactive materials.
  • On-the-job training should be completed and documented.

Perform a Dry-run without any Chemicals of the Experiment

  • Always conduct the experiment within a fume hood.
  • Be sure to notify other people in the laboratory what experiment is being conducted, what the potential hazards are, and when the experiment will be run.
  • Handle pyrophoric or self-heating materials under inert atmospheres and use the appropriate techniques to avoid exposure to oxygen or air.
    • If possible, do not use a needle and syringe to handle pyrophoric or self-heating materials in open atmosphere, use a cannula instead to avoid the possibility of the plunger pulling out and exposing the chemical to air.
  • Properly dispose of any hazardous waste and note on the hazardous waste tag any special precautions that may need to be taken.
    • If possible, quench the pyrophoric or self-heating material prior to disposal.
    • If the material is in its original container, do not open to air. - submit a hazardous waste pick-up request and note that it is in its original container and the hazard.
  • Always wear appropriate PPE, including the correct gloves, fire resistant lab coat or apron, safety goggles used in conjunction with a face shield, and explosion-proof shields when working with potentially explosive chemicals.
    • Avoid wearing synthetic material clothing when working with any flammable, combustible, explosive, or pyrophoric or self-heating materials.
      • Synthetic clothing melts when on fire and will adhere to the skin.
  • It is important to note that any paper towels, Kim wipes, gloves, etc., that have come into contact with these materials need to be quenched prior to disposal.

Storage Guidelines

Spontaneously combustible and self-heating materials must always be stored according to the SDS of the chemical. Due to the fact that these materials can react or ignite upon exposure to air, they should always be stored under an inert atmosphere. Avoid any storage areas near heat/flames, oxidizers, and water sources. Containers with pyrophoric materials must be clearly labeled with the correct chemical name and hazard.  

Chemical Hygene Plan - Table of Contents