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Pyrophoric Chemicals

What Is the Scope of This Guideline?

This guideline identifies general safety precautions that should be reviewed and followed when dealing with pyrophoric chemicals at UNM. Pyrophoric liquids, solids and gases are materials that may ignite or react violently when exposed to air. Many pyrophoric chemicals are also water reactive.

Examples of pyrophorics:

Alkali metals (lithium, sodium, potassium)
Phosphorus (white)
Organic-metallics (tributylaluminum)
Finely divided metals (Zirconium, titanium)
Metal carbonyls (pentacarbonyl iron, nickel carbonyl)
Alkylated, metal alkoxides, or non-metal-halides (diethylethoxyaluminum, dichloro(methyl) silicone


How Do I Protect Myself?

Eye Protection

Safety glasses that meet the ANSI Z.87.1 1989 standard should be worn whenever handling pyrophoric chemicals. Ordinary prescription glasses will NOT provide adequate protection unless they also meet this standard. Safety glasses should also be equipped with side shields if there is a possibility of flying particles (i.e., glass, plastics). When there is the potential for significant splash hazards, additional eye/face protection should be worn in the form of goggles or a face shield.

Skin Protection

Gloves should be worn when handling pyrophoric chemicals. Disposable latex or nitrile gloves should be adequate for handling most of these in general laboratory settings. Chemical resistant gloves will need to be used when direct or prolonged contact is anticipated. An Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) should be reviewed if handling may involve extended or high exposure to lab personnel to ensure adequate skin protection is provided.
In addition a non-synthetic lab coat, long sleeved clothing or apron is advised if exposure could involve more than normal handling operations would be expected. No open toe shoes are allowed.

Special Handling

A glove box may be used with pyrophoric material if an inert environment is required. 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 explosion or a high thermal reaction, additional shielding should be utilized. This may involve the use of shielding in a glove box or in the case of a fume hood with the sash in the lowest possible position. Portable shields may also be used for additional protection.

Store pyrophoric material away from heat/flames, oxidizers and water sources. Keep containers closed and ensure that manufacturer’s labels and warnings remain intact. Check the MSDS for incompatibilities when storing pyrophorics.

  • Avoid storing pyrophoric material by exits.
  • Handling emergencies involving pyrographic chemicals
  • Anticipate emergency situations, have proper handling equipment in the lab and readily available for spills.
  • Class D fire extinguishers should be available for large fires.

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 for. 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 UNM Police at 277-2241. UNM Police will also contact the Safety & Risk Services (SRS) office at 277-2753. Communicate the following:

  • 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)
  • Notify the Principal Investigator or designated Safety Officer as soon as possible also.

Waste Disposal Requirements

Handling and disposal of pyrophoric chemicals should be done in accordance with lab protocol established by the Principal Investigator (PI). Removal of potentially pyrophoric material from a glove box may involve placing material in a zip-lock bag or quenching material or placing material under water. The PI or designated Safety Officer must ensure that these procedures are clearly communicated and that the supplies necessary are available prior to using the pyrophoric.

Waste disposal requests should be directed to SRS at 277-2753.


Decontamination Procedures

Cleanup and decontamination may require the use of activated carbon adsorbent or other nonreactive material. Review the MSDS for additional guidance.


Ergonomic Considerations

Glove boxes can offer benefits with regards to lab personnel safety. However, they can also be uncomfortable for the following reasons:

  • Arms remain extended for long periods of time.
  • The thick gloves may make the user overcompensate on grip strength.
  • Lab personnel using glove boxes should follow these steps to make glove box use more comfortable:
  • Reduce side reaching by moving all materials from the transfer chamber to the main chamber at one time,
  • Utilize antifatigue matting or use a sit-stand seat,
  • Take frequent stretch breaks.