Solving 'Open Use' Storage of Solvents
Dispensing solvents from large containers into smaller ones or spending more to buy solvents in smaller containers weren't appealing. This pharmaceutical company found a different solution for meeting the fire codes.
- By Nancy Westcott
- Oct 01, 2010
Decreased productivity threatened a North Carolina pharmaceutical company when its state's fire codes regarding "open use" restrictions dictated the location of its chemical storage. The company's Environmental Safety Department found itself facing chemical storage challenges at a new level.
Using chemicals and solvents such as ether, methylene chloride, chloroform, hexane, ethyl acetate, isopropyl alcohol, methanol, and toluene in its processes, the company faced a productivity problem stemming from fire codes dictating that five-gallon containers of the fluids had to be stored on the first floor of its facility. The solvents were needed in the lab on the building's fourth floor, however.
The restrictions limited the storage and use of those types of chemicals in multi-level buildings in order to minimize the potential fire hazards. The codes stipulated that fewer open use containers were allowed on the building's higher floors because fumes from high-vapor-pressure and flammable liquids are fire hazards because of their increased potential for static ignition. In addition, the "open use" containers caused excessive VOCs that posed a threat to workers' safety. In order to have the fluids handy on the fourth floor for the lab technicians' immediate use, the company was facing the possibility of using one-gallon bottles of each of the fluids instead of the more cost-effective five-gallon containers.
North Carolina's fire codes defined an "Open-system" or "Open-Use" situation as: "The use of a solid or liquid hazardous material involving a vessel or system that is continuously open to the atmosphere during normal operations and where vapors are liberated, or the product is exposed to the atmosphere during normal operations." The codes also defined non-compliant, open situations as "situations where hazardous solids or liquids were being dispensed from or into open beakers or containers," making the process at the pharmaceutical company a prime example.
Based on the arrangement of the facility, the codes dictated that only containers up to one gallon in size were allowed to be open or stored above the first floor. The situation presented a choice for the facility's managers: continue the time-consuming practice of dispensing chemicals from large containers into smaller ones and transporting containers of fluids from the ground floor to the fourth floor, or take on the increased cost of purchasing solvents in smaller containers so they could be stored near their point of use in the fourth-floor lab. The company really wanted to both, saving by using the five-gallon containers and having the chemicals close to the technicians in the lab.
Finding the Solution
Environmental Safety Department personnel knew the answer to the challenge was to eliminate the open-use situation, which would then allow the five-gallon containers to be housed on the fourth floor. Metal pumps the company already had tried on the ground floor were not the solution. Every pump they had tested perpetuated the open-use situation, allowing VOCs to escape into the air. Additionally, after only a short time, each one of them leaked, spewing chemicals all over the lab workers.
To make matters worse, because the pumps lacked a stop-flow mechanism, it was easy to overflow the receiving containers, which created a spill hazard. And regardless of the type, none of pumps could comply with the directive of a closed-use situation.
Convinced there had to be a better way, one manager searched online for a solution and discovered pumps that had the potential to solve their problem. The pumps were designed to keep vessels closed so vapors were sealed in the container during normal operations except when dispensing fluids, easily satisfying the state's closed-use requirement. The department also was surprised to find the pumps could be outfitted to be compatible with more than 700 chemicals, including methylene chloride, which in past tests had quickly compromised the effectiveness of other pumps they had tried.
With fittings compatible with the spouts already on the five-gallon chemical containers, it was now possible for the research technicians to dispense the liquids safely without having to tip the vessels. Depending on the solvent's viscosity, the pumps delivered a steady stream of fluid up to 4 gpm at a very low pressure of 4 to 6 psi. The drip-proof faucet and spring-actuated on-off valve allowed solvents to be dispensed with precise control from the safety cabinet into small beakers ready for use, thereby eliminating spills and leaking.
The new pumps solved the company's open use situation. Now, except for a 55-gallon drum of toluene that is also dispensed using one of the pressure pumps, all of the necessary solvent containers can be housed on the fourth floor near the lab technicians.
The pumps saved employees' time and saved money for the company, paying for themselves in less than two months because the company could buy solvents in larger containers. After two years, the original pumps are still going strong, while dangerous VOCs and odors are greatly reduced and workers are protected and breathing safely. At last inspection, even the fire marshal was impressed.
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