Process Safety Beacon: Reactive Chemistry Incidents Can Happen Anywhere | AIChE

You are here

Process Safety Beacon: Reactive Chemistry Incidents Can Happen Anywhere

Process Safety Beacon



Most cleaning products contain chemical ingredients that can react with certain materials, especially other cleaning products.

Reactive chemistry incidents are a concern even if no intentional chemical reactions take place at your workplace. These incidents can happen almost anywhere.

On Nov. 7, 2019, in Burlington, MA, a restaurant employee accidently spilled a cleaner called Scale Kleen on the floor. Later, another employee began to clean the floor using a different cleaner called Super 8. According to the safety data sheets (SDSs), Super 8 contains nearly 10% sodium hypochlorite (bleach) — a higher concentration than the usual household bleach. Scale Kleen contains both nitric and phosphoric acids, at a total concentration of nearly 40%. The materials reacted and released toxic chlorine gas. The restaurant was evacuated but, unfortunately, the restaurant manager was overcome by the fumes and died in the hospital.

A few days later, on Nov. 19, employees at a restaurant in nearby Woburn, MA, mixed two cleaning solutions that also released toxic fumes. The restaurant was evacuated and three people were hospitalized as a precaution.

Did You Know?

  • Many materials used in cleaning and maintenance operations can react with other substances. Reactivity may be one of the reasons some products make good cleaning agents.
  • The reactivity of bleach with other materials, such as acids, is a known hazard. The June 2016 Beacon describes the reaction of sodium hypochlorite bleach with ammonia to generate toxic chloramines.
  • Potentially reactive cleaning materials may contact your process chemicals if they are not completely removed from the equipment following cleaning operations.

What Can You Do?

  • Read the SDSs for all materials used in your workplace, including those used for cleaning, maintenance, lubrication, water treatment, and utilities such as heating or cooling fluids.
  • Recognize that SDSs cannot describe all potential reaction hazards of a material. Ask a chemist or other technical expert about potential reactivity hazards of the specific materials in your plant.
  • Consider all potential reactivity hazards when introducing a new material into your plant.
  • Follow cleaning procedures rigorously. Make sure all cleaning agents have been completely removed before returning equipment to service.
  • Never mix materials without understanding potential reactivity hazards and necessary safeguards.
  • Read the June 2016 Beacon for more information about bleach reactivity hazards.
  • Share this Beacon with family and friends — this type of incident can happen anywhere, including your home!

Boerner, L. K., “Accidental Mix of Bleach and Acid Kills Buffalo Wild Wings Employee,” Chemical & Engineering News, 97 (45), p. 6 (Nov. 2019).

Never mix materials unless you know it is safe!

©AIChE 2020. All rights reserved. Reproduction for non-commercial, educational purposes is encouraged. However, reproduction for any commercial purpose without express written consent of AIChE is strictly prohibited. Contact us at or 646-495-1371.



Copyright Permissions 

Would you like to reuse content from CEP Magazine? It’s easy to request permission to reuse content. Simply click here to connect instantly to licensing services, where you can choose from a list of options regarding how you would like to reuse the desired content and complete the transaction.