Flammable Chemicals and Refrigerator Storage

Recently, there was a refrigerator explosion on Emory’s main campus that was caused by storing flammables in a conventional refrigerator. Luckily, no one was around during the time of the explosion, but this incident serves as a reminder that flammables should never be stored in non-approved refrigerators or freezers. A flammable liquid is defined by OSHA as “having a flash point at or below 199.4°F (93°C).” Flammable liquids include common alcohols such as Ethanol or Isopropyl Alcohol.

Are you storing your flammable chemicals in conventional refrigerators, freezers, or cold rooms?

If you are, then you are creating a potential situation that can result in serious injuries or death to someone working in the lab! Vapors from the stored chemicals can accumulate over time and can come into contact with an electrical spark, thus creating a powerful explosion. The spark can occur during the normal operation of these appliances such as when the thermostat, defrost timer, the internal lighting unit, or the motor turns on and off. Conventional refrigerators and cold rooms should NOT be used for flammable chemical storage. Even a small quantity of flammable liquid stored in a nonapproved refrigerator or freezer can cause a large explosion.

Two more similar incidents from the University of Vermont and the University of Virginia are shown below. The explosions were both due to storing flammables in conventional refrigerators.


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How do I tell what type of refrigerator I have?
Flammable materials must be stored in approved refrigerators or freezers. Cold rooms are not appropriate for storage because they are not ventilated and have closed air circulation systems that re-circulate leaks and escaped vapors within the chamber. The table on the next page will help you determine if your refrigerator is appropriate for flammable storage.


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Alternative Solutions

Flammables can be safely chilled in an ice bucket or with dry ice. For long term storage, check if a lab on your floor will let you use their approved units or pool together funding to purchase one for the department or floor. Emory approved vendors offer discounts when purchasing multiple units at one time.


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