Safety Tips: Oxidizing Materials

Oxidizing Chemicals

Oxidizing chemicals are materials that spontaneously evolve oxygen at room temperature or with slight heat.  Oxidizing chemicals also promote combustion.  Strong oxidizers are capable of forming explosive mixtures when mixed with combustible, organic, or easily oxidized materials.

Oxidizers are agents that initiate or promote combustion in other materials, generally through the release of oxygen.

Oxidizing Safety Sign

Physical Hazards : Oxidizing materials can decompose readily at room temperature, or with slight heating, to produce oxygen. Elevated oxygen environments increase the risk of fire and explosion.

When in contact with incompatible materials, oxidizers can:

Speed up the development of a fire and make it burn more intensely. Cause materials that are normally not readily combustible in air to burn more readily. Cause combustible materials to burn spontaneously without a source of ignition.

Incompatible materials include paper, wood, flammable and combustible chemicals, grease, waxes, cloth and many plastics that can act as a source of fuel.

Inorganic peroxides react vigorously with water to release oxygen. Contact with organics and other oxidizable materials can result in fire.

Organic peroxides are unstable, highly reactive and extremely flammable in the dry crystalline state. They are sensitive to heat, friction, impact, light and strong oxidizing agents
Nitrates enhance the combustion of other materials and can give off irritating or toxic fumes in a fire. Some nitrates become shock sensitive when mixed with organic materials. Perchlorates are normally stable, but may become explosive when mixed with combustible materials.

Health Hazards : In general, oxidizers are corrosives and have similar health hazards to corrosives. Contact with skin causes redness, irritation, and possibly burns. Inhalation may cause respiratory tract irritation, sore throat, and possible burns. May lead to nausea, dizziness, drowsiness, headache, shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, pulmonary edema, or death. Ingestion may cause severe digestive tract irritation, nausea, vomiting, and burns potentially leading to severe and permanent damage or death.

Chronic health effects are related to hematological and neurological changes. Absorption of some oxidizers has been associated with liver and kidney disease and cancer.

Handling and Use (Hazard Control)

All procedures involving oxidizers should be performed in well ventilated areas, preferably in a fume hood, to prevent a buildup of oxygen. Safety shields should be used when reactions are expected to be highly exothermic or if there is a risk of splash or explosion.

Work Practice Controls

  • Minimize the quantities of oxidizers on hand.
  • Exercise caution when mixing oxidizing agents with flammable or combustible materials for research.  Use small amounts to reduce generation of heat and control the reaction.
  • Evacuated glassware can implode and eject flying glass, and splattered chemicals.  Vacuum work involving oxidizing chemicals must be conducted in a fume hood, glove box, or isolated in an acceptable manner.
  • Mechanical vacuum pumps must be protected using cold traps and, where appropriate, filtered to prevent particulate release. The exhaust for the pumps must be vented into an exhaust hood.

Personal Protective Equipment

Eye protection in the form of safety glasses must be worn at all times when handling oxidizing chemicals.  Ordinary (street) prescription glasses do not provide adequate protection.  Adequate safety glasses must meet the requirements of ANSI Z87. 1 and must be equipped with side shields.  Safety glasses with side shields do not provide adequate protection from splashes; therefore, when the potential for splash hazard exists, other eye protection and/or face protection must be worn.

Gloves should be worn when handling oxidizing chemicals.  Disposable nitrile gloves provide adequate protection against accidental hand contact with small quantities of most laboratory chemicals.  Lab workers should contact Environment, Health & Safety (EHS) department for advice on chemical resistant glove selection when direct or prolonged contact with hazardous chemicals is anticipated.

Lab coats, closed toe shoes and long sleeved clothing must be worn when handling oxidizing chemicals. Additional protective clothing should be worn if the possibility of skin contact is likely.

Safety shielding is required any time there is a risk of explosion, splash hazard, or a highly exothermic reaction.  All manipulations of oxidizing chemicals which pose this risk should occur in a fume hood with the sash in the lowest feasible position.  Portable shields, which provide protection to all laboratory occupants, are acceptable.

Transportation and Storage

  • Store away from flammable and combustible materials in a cool, dry location.
  • Do not store on wooden shelves or in wooden cabinets.
  • Do not use corks or rubber stoppers.
  • Store oxidizers in containers made of inert material, such as glass, on fire resistant shelving
  • Do not store in the same area as potential fuel sources and keep segregated from dehydrating agents (e.g. sulfuric acid) and reducing agents.

Waste Disposal

Because most spent, unused, and expired chemicals/materials are considered hazardous wastes, they must be properly disposed of.  Do not dispose of chemical wastes by dumping them down a sink, flushing in a toilet or discarding in regular trash containers, unless authorized by EHS Hazardous Materials Management (HMM).

For an actual chemical exposure/injury:

  • Flush exposed eyes or skin with water for at least 15 minutes, then seek medical attention .
  • Check SDS for chemical-specific exposure treatment and first-aid activities.

Contact EHS for advice on symptoms of chemical exposure, or assistance in performing an exposure assessment.

Report all work related accidents, injuries, illnesses or exposures to Work Connections within 24 hours by completing and submitting the Illness and Injury Report Form. Complete the Incident and Near-Miss Report form.

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