When individuals and organisations consider temperature as an important aspect of chemical storage, they often focus on preventing exposure to extreme heat. However, heat is just one aspect when it comes to safe chemical storage—it’s just as vital to prevent certain chemicals from becoming too cold.
Chemicals expand when they drop below their freezing points, increasing the likelihood that the containers in which they are stored will rupture, causing severe safety threats. Aside from possible safety issues, there are also concerns about damage to the actual substances from extremely cold temperatures, making these substances harder to use.
Cold, winter weather, particularly when conditions drop below zero, is challenging for organisations concerned with safe chemical storage. When storing chemicals that cannot be allowed to freeze, proper temperature controlled storage is one of the most important preventative measures to reduce the risks of the main problems frozen chemicals can present.
Problems Posed by Cold Weather
Safety and Environmental Issues
The effects of freezing temperatures on certain chemicals can lead to environmental problems and put people in danger, particularly those in close proximity to harmful chemicals that become more volatile due to the cold.
Acetic acid, for example, is a highly corrosive chemical which has a freezing point of 16.6 degrees Celsius. If acetic acid expands, as is possible when it freezes, the newly frozen and expanded chemical can cause the containers in which it’s stored to crack. Such fissures pave the way for hazardous chemical spills to occur, putting people at risk of corrosive burns (or whatever the hazard may be).
Furthermore, chemical spills resulting from incorrectly storing chemicals in cold conditions have the same potential for polluting the environment as any other spill.
Quite apart from the potential risks to safety and the environment posed by chemicals that become too cold in storage, the cold conditions can actually damage the chemicals and make them more difficult to work with or even render them unusable.
To take an everyday example, oil and alkyd paints become more viscous when exposed to cold temperatures, making them too thick to work with. Latex paints can freeze at low temperatures and become completely unusable over time with repeated thawing.
It’s important, furthermore, to consider the impact of cold weather on production processes. For example, freezing temperatures can render certain agricultural pesticides useless by causing ingredients to separate, impacting farmers. In general, any temperature-sensitive chemical that is exposed to cold conditions can spoil production processes due to a drop-off in quality.
Cold weather, therefore, poses safety, environmental, and cost threats to chemical storage that must be dealt with by using appropriate best practices which minimize the impacts of freezing conditions on chemicals.
Safe Cold Weather Chemical Storage
There are a number of practical preventative steps to take which prevent the above issues from happening.
A vital tip is to ensure that the people responsible for handling and storing chemicals sensitive to cold weather are aware of the freezing points of such chemicals. The freezing point dictates how to store the chemical and how cautious one should be when handling or using chemicals in cold weather conditions. Some examples of different freezing points in degrees Celsius are:
- Acetic Acid: 16.6 °C
- Benzene: 5.5 °C
- Cyclohexane 6.5 °C
- Formic acid 8.4 °C
- Refer to Material Safety Data Sheets
Material safety data sheets are documents that provide detailed technical information on hazardous chemicals, helping people to understand the effects of exposure to the chemical in question. These data sheets also display hazard information relating to how chemicals should be stored or handled, including information on freezing points.
It’s imperative to make material safety data sheets readily available in workplaces where chemicals are stored since these documents inform people about possible safety issues arising from the exposure of the stored chemicals to cold (and hot) temperatures.
- Temperature Controlled Chemical Storage
For any chemicals that have the potential to cause adverse effects from exposure to excessively cold temperatures or become unusable, it’s essential to invest in appropriate temperature controlled storage units. These storage units can provide invaluable frost protection, which helps to ensure chemicals don’t freeze during cold weather conditions, and avoids the prospect of a harmful chemical spill.
Other key aspects of temperature controlled storage units include:
- Thermostats for fine-tuning the temperatures to appropriate levels for the stored chemicals.
- Temperature recording and monitoring to ensure quick adjustment of temperature settings during periods of fluctuating temperatures.
- Segregation, meaning different chemicals with different storage temperature requirements can be stored safely within the same cabinet, providing cost-efficiency. Individual sections within the unit can have their own temperature settings.
In summary, extremely cold conditions have the potential to be just as deleterious to safe chemical storage as extreme heat. Frozen chemicals can damage the environment, cause safety issues, and lose businesses money due to becoming unusable.
By taking preventative measures, including becoming aware of the freezing points of all chemicals stored in an area, reading the material safety data sheets to understand risks, and investing in temperature controlled storage units, the impact of cold temperatures on chemicals is vastly reduced.