Over the past few years a number of school evacuations and disruption to local communities has occurred due to the discovery of hazardous materials used in science lessons. Army bomb disposal teams are called upon to deal with a large number of cases across the UK where inappropriate storage of 2,4-DNP (2,4-dinitrophenylhydrazine) led to materials becoming potentially unstable with the significant risk of explosion. The event detailed in the article below is typical of the cases that have been reported by national media.
2,4-DNP (2,4-dinitrophenylhydrazine) is a hazardous material with a number of industrial uses, but in schools and colleges 2,4 -DNP is used as an indicator to determine the chemical identity of aldehydes or ketones. It usually appears in a solid form but needs to be kept from drying out otherwise it becomes explosive.
A failure to maintain and monitor the necessary storage arrangements for 2,4 -DNP is often the cause of the problem.
Depending upon the material’s characteristics and the situational context e.g. supply, transportation, storage, use or disposal, hazardous substances can fall under several pieces of regulation, including: The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health, Dangerous Substances Explosive Atmospheres and The Explosives Regulations etc.
If you are in any doubt as to the condition of stored hazardous substances inc. 2,4 -DNP you are advised to contact CLEAPSS (formerly known as the Consortium of Local Education Authorities for the Provision of Science Services) as one of the DFE’s key recognised sources of guidance along with the HSE (http://science.cleapss.org.uk/)
Thankfully cases so far have not resulted in any serious injury but it provides us with a timely reminder that the risks of hazardous materials needs to be carefully and systematically managed.
Managing hazardous substances can seem a complex, but by applying good risk management principles there should be no reason why most practical experiments in science lessons can’t go ahead.
You can’t manage what you don’t understand, so ensure you involve competent people with access to current information (e.g. material safety data sheets) and good practice guidance (e.g. CLEAPSS Hazcards and Guides) to perform an assessment of the risks and ensure the necessary steps are taken to control them, which might include the following:
RMP Risk Control are well-placed to assist client authorities with their health and safety risks. Support can be provided in the following ways: