Posted by: Green Knight | March 1, 2011

Chemical No-nos

On Feb. 23rd, a big reaction cloud caused a multi-agency response across the river from me in Illinois.  An outfit that solidifies “non-hazardous” waste for landfilling wound up with some stuff that they shouldn’t have accepted, and mixed it with incompatible materials.  Lack of proper screening procedures for incoming materials, along with insufficient training and emergency planning, led to what was initially thought to be a fire, but instead was a large cloud of unhealthy reaction products, which fortunately blew toward an empty field.

I’m still gathering specifics on the chemicals and materials involved, from the fire and emergency management people as well as the Illinois EPA, but I can say that you just don’t mix inorganic chlorinated materials with other stuff; they’re reactive and would carry the D003 waste code under RCRA.  One such chemical is trichloro-s-triazinetrione, the stuff in the tablets you toss into the swimming pool to disinfect it.  It’s all about ratios…a couple of tablets in a big body of water gets the desired effect.  I once inspected a place that manufactured the tablets by putting the powder in a punch press and forming tablets; it didn’t even need a binder given the force involved.  I showed up after they had a fire.

You see, the powdered stuff has a lot of surface area, and is very water-reactive (that’s why it’s used in pools, in the right proportions).  That facility, in north St. Louis, wasn’t the tidiest I’ve ever seen, and they had a few 30-gallon plastic-lined fiber drums of the product sitting around the punch press units, some with the LIDS OFF, not a good idea.  It seems an employee passing by thought one of them was a trash can, and tossed his empty Coke can into it.  The drops of soda left in the can, being acidic with a pH of 3, instantly reacted with the powder even more vigorously than water would have, the result being a 4-foot high sheet of flame erupting up from the drum.

Another employee, fortunately, reacted almost as quickly as the chemicals, by driving over in a forklift equipped with a drum grab, picked up the big firework, drove it outside to the back loading area, dumped it onto the asphalt, and someone else put it out with flooding quantities of water from a fire hose (proportions again).  This area was built up with a tie wall on a hillside, and all the runoff ran down the hill over a wooded area, which probably killed off its share of trees and vegetation in time.

The chlorine “tabs” described in the article are of the same basic type, but I’m working on getting details so I can comment  more fully; apparently they were in containers with waste printer’s ink, plus some shredded diapers and contaminated kitty litter used for solidification purposes.  Assistant Chief Brian Halwachs of the French Village Fire District told me that the waste litter used at the site normally had been used to soak up antifreeze (which wouldn’t have reacted,) but it’s suspected that this time it had some used oil or other hydrocarbons in it that DID react.  Depending on the solvents in the ink, that alone might have been enough, and the ink itself could potentially have been a D001 ignitable hazardous waste.

At any rate, here’s the article that started me off on the research.  Ignore the misspelling of “latex,” which Chief Halwachs didn’t even confirm was in the mix, and have a look.  I’ll post more once I get further info.

Don‘t try this at home!


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