When I worked at Boeing, our haz mat folks in the company fire department were constantly being called to clean up old labs, etc., where crystalized containers were found. The really bad aspect was many of the containers had no markings or no intelligable markings as to their contents. As a standard operating procedure, our people tried to stay away from blowing up containers. But crystalized products were another situation. They tried to identify the products and container appearance,. but if they suspected there was crystalized picric acid involved, the container got a quick trip to a taxiway or parking lot where the bomb squad used just enough explosive to open it or set off an explosion. A container of picric acid exploding was an awesome site. The danger is real and take it seriously.
Arlington, Tennessee, USA
]On Behalf Of Jetty Middelkoop
Sent: Sunday, May 31, 2009 9:46 AM
Subject: [hazmat101] picric acid - what is the REAL explosion risk?
Hello list mates,
Last week I had my first picric acid incident on a highschool. We decided to
have it blown up bij the EOD, as it had completely dried out and had formed
But basically I hate blowing things up. I would have liked to put the
bottles upside down in a bucket and let it rehydrate. But as we were not
sure that this could be done safely, we did not give that a try. However, I
would like to understand the real risks.
Although many media and MSDS's state that dried out picric acid is very
shock sensitive and should not even be moved, I doubt this statement. I
think they all copy this info from each other.
In the past, at the final stage of its production phase, picric acid was
dried and then crushed before being packed into boxes and sent to
The manufacturing process as practised by this factory involved treating
phenol with nitric acid to produce tri-nitro-phenol, or picric acid. The
yellow crystals of the acid thus fonned were separated from the spent
liquors by filtration, washed and transferred to the drying sheds, where
they were placed on glass beds heated by steam pipes. Finally the dried acid
was transported to the sifting and packing sheds, or magazines, where it was
crushed and packed into boxes, ready for despatch by rail to the
Stored in a dry form in shells, it did not explode by itself while being
handled by soldiers. To prevent the formation of picric metal salts, the
inside of the shells were covered with some layer to prevent contact between
the picric acid and the metal casing.
I believe that the real risk of picric acid lays in the formation of the
much more shock sensitive metal-picric salts, which can be formed it the
picric acid is contaminated or stored in a jar with a metal cap, If it has
just dried out in its pure form, I believe that shaking the bottle does not
form any risk for an explosion. Otherwise the Lowmoor picric acid company
would not have lasted longer than the first production series of picric
acid, where they crushed the dry picric acid.
Although the EOD personnel do not confirm this vocally, their deeds do. When
they picked up the bottles of picric acid, they directly shook them "to make
it less instable" (????) I had begged them to please not do that while
still being in the midst of a chemical storage room which was packed to the
rim with all kinds of partly unknown chemicals, but nevertheless they did.
So I think they know well enough that the bottles, with plastic caps, were
not going to explode at all. If there would have been any risk, they would
have signed their dead sentence by causing an explosion in a cramped, full
chemical storage - their bomb suits would probably not have protected them
against the fire and chemical hell that would have started then.
I have been searching the web for incident reports in which picric acid
bottles exploded when exposed to a slight shock - but to my surprise I found
no such report.
I have been looking for youtube video's on the explosion of picric acid. I
found several - but in all these cases the explosion occurred after the
picric acid was exposed directly to a flame, and then still it took some
time before it exploded. Not a single video on someone throwing a small
amount of picric acid in the floor - or shake its container - and get an
explosion. Isn't that weird?
Of course I could not in this case have taken the picric acid and do some
field tests with it myself. But I suppose these must sure have been done by
others! I only am not able to find the results of such tests.
Hopefully some of you out there can teach us more about the real risks of
picric acid. And no, this does not mean that next time I WILL do the tests -
just for everybodies feeling of safety I think that most cases will
nevertheless end up in an evoked explosion. But I would like to know better
in my heart.
Wish you all the best,
Fire dept. Amsterdam Amstelland
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