Now that you know where the reactive material and interaction hazards are at your facility, you will need to ensure all of the hazards are contained and controlled on an ongoing basis.
You can get most of the data you need to safely handle many reactive materials from material suppliers. Depending on the nature of the material and how you will be storing and using it, the needed data for each reactive material will likely include:
- Materials of construction to use and to avoid
- Common materials and contaminants to avoid (e.g., air, water, rust, oil, acids, caustic)
- Storage configurations, maximum quantities, and minimum/maximum storage temperatures
- Shelf life considerations
- What to do in the event of a leak or spill
- What to do if an unwanted reaction starts
- How to fight a fire involving the material
- Possible toxic/corrosive/flammable products of reaction or decomposition
- Any special considerations (e.g., “light-sensitive” or “forms unstable byproducts over time”)
You should be able to find some of this information on the MSDS, such as how to respond to a spill or fire. In some cases, suppliers have developed technical bulletins that provide very detailed engineering information. You should ask for and use these bulletins if they are available.
If you are producing a unique material, you or an experienced reactive materials testing company will need to do your own material assessments. This may include testing for water reactivity, shock sensitivity, dust explosivity, and thermal stability in actual storage and handling configurations, as well as finding out all of the items in the list above.
Likewise, your material supplier may not be much help for reactive interactions on your compatibility chart. For these combinations, the first thing you need to know is how much heat or gas can be generated. In some cases, this can be as simple as using the heat of mixing published in a technical reference book. In others, it may involve use of special equipment to accurately measure the amount of heat and pressure generated during a complex chemical reaction.
In addition, you will need to know under what conditions a reaction will occur, whether an explosive mixture can result, and whether the reaction products (e.g., off-gases) are hazardous.
A number of sophisticated tools can be of assistance in these areas. Two of the more common tools are the Differential Scanning Calorimeter (DSC) and the Accelerating Rate Calorimeter (ARC). The resulting data can then be used to properly size heat transfer equipment and relief devices, as well as establish safe limits of operation. You may need to get professional assistance to gather the data you require.
A word of warning: be very careful in the use of information from small-scale tests. For example, the maximum storage temperature for a temperature-sensitive material will vary, depending on the storage quantity and configuration. Safe operating limits may also change such as with differing sizes and shapes of mixing vessels.