As someone who used to detonate old picric acid for a living back in the dark ages (the 1980’s), I can tell you that there is nothing bomb squads enjoy more than a good picric acid scare. However, the danger is substantially overstated; unless the containers are subject to significant shock they will not self-detonate, even if there are picrate crystals. When we used to detonate them, we had to use one pound dynamite boosters to electronically initiate the explosion.
If the containers had metal caps (as they did until the late 1950’s), then I might suggest the bomb squad. With plastic caps, however, I would hydrate them as your contractor suggested off the record. Immerse them in water, and after several hours, slowly loosen the caps until water can enter the containers. Once sufficiently hydrated, there is no danger of explosion and the containers can be safety stored.
I researched picric acid explosions some years ago, and could find no explanation for the “scare” of the early 1980’s that resulted in schools being routinely evacuated. There is one anecdotal incident, supposedly in Canada in the 1970’s, where a lab worker had his hands blown off when opening a bottle with a metal cap. There were reportedly crystals in the threads which resulted in sufficient friction to initiate an explosion. However, there are no documented cases of picric acid self-detonating in a laboratory setting.
Want to know what happens when you call the bomb squad? Here’s a YouTube news story: http://www.youtube. com/watch?v=jWK6Eoassjg .
Way overblown, if you’ll excuse the expression….
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From: DCHAS-L Discussion List [mailto:DCHAS-L**At_Symbol_Here**LIST.UVM.EDU] On Behalf Of Paul Dover
Sent: Tuesday, March 31, 2009 3:46 AM
Subject: [DCHAS-L] Picric acid
You were all so helpful with my question about amorphous silica, I am
asking your help on another matter.
One of our technicians in our weekly chemical disposal round came across
two small (about 25 ml) containers of picric acid. They were obviously
ancient, but at the time she was unaware of the danger of dried out
picric acid. It was noticed by someone near the storage area, and due
The problem is the label is obviously yellow stained, it appears to be a
glass bottle with a plastic cap, with no visible 'fur' around the edges.
The label obscures the contents, so we don't know if there is liquid or
solid in the containers. Worst case would be around 20g total dried
picric acid (as would be supplied as 40% slurry in water). Now no one
can say what to do or what will happen. I have had reports from
'evacuate in a mile radius' to just put it in a bucket of water for a
The local chemical disposal company has said the Hazmat response will
come in with sirens and explode the thing...which is gross overkill.
They were the ones who 'off the record' recommended the water. Chemical
suppliers did not want to know.
Our central OHS team will come out in the morning and in the meantime it
is in a sytrofoam box in a double brick locked bunker with approach
doors closed and "Do not enter" tape all over the door.
I guess my frustration is none of the 'experts' can tell me is 20g dried
picric acid the equivalent of a packet of fire crackers or a hand
P.s another remote possibility, this having originated from the dark
ages, is it may contain something else!
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