Date: Tue, 31 Mar 2009 07:43:34 -0400
Reply-To: Russ Phifer <rphifer**At_Symbol_Here**WCENVIRONMENTAL.COM>
Sender: DCHAS-L Discussion List <DCHAS-L**At_Symbol_Here**LIST.UVM.EDU>
From: Russ Phifer <rphifer**At_Symbol_Here**WCENVIRONMENTAL.COM>
Organization: WC Environmental, LLC
Subject: Re: Picric acid
Comments: To: Paul Dover
In-Reply-To: <89907EA1DCFB7548A431C13A270F9DD506B16C94**At_Symbol_Here**prk-exch-01.vcp.local>

Paul –

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: com/watch?v=jWK6Eoassjg .

Way overblown, if you’ll excuse the expression….

Russ Phifer

Russ Phifer

WC Environmental, LLC

1085C Andrew Drive

West Chester, PA  19380

610-696-9220x12/ fax 610-344-7519



P Please consider your environmental responsibility before printing this e-mail or any other document

-----Original Message-----
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
To: DCHAS-L**At_Symbol_Here**LIST.UVM.EDU
Subject: [DCHAS-L] Picric acid

Hi all,

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

panic ensued.

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

few hours.

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


Suggestions, comments?

Thanks, Paul

P.s another remote possibility, this having originated from the dark

ages, is it may contain something else!


Paul Dover

Resources Manager

Medicinal Chemistry and Drug Action

Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences

Monash University (Parkville Campus)

381 Royal Parade, Parkville

Victoria, 3052. Australia

Phone: +61 3 9903 9551

Fax:   +61 3 9903 9143

Email: Paul.Dover**At_Symbol_Here**


No virus found in this incoming message.

Checked by AVG -

Version: 8.0.238 / Virus Database: 270.11.32/2030 - Release Date: 03/30/09 08:40:00

Previous post   |  Top of Page   |   Next post

The content of this page reflects the personal opinion(s) of the author(s) only, not the American Chemical Society, ILPI, Safety Emporium, or any other party. Use of any information on this page is at the reader's own risk. Unauthorized reproduction of these materials is prohibited. Send questions/comments about the archive to
The maintenance and hosting of the DCHAS-L archive is provided through the generous support of Safety Emporium.