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Prudent Practices in the Laboratory: Handling and Disposal of Chemicals
Flammability and Explosibility
Acetonitrile is a flammable liquid (NFPA rating = 3), and its vapor can travel a considerable distance to an ignition source and "flash back." Acetonitrile vapor forms explosive mixtures with air at concentrations of 4 to 16% (by volume). Hazardous gases produced in a fire include hydrogen cyanide, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and oxides of nitrogen. Carbon dioxide or dry chemical extinguishers should be used for acetonitrile fires.
Reactivity and Incompatibility
Contact of acetonitrile with strong oxidizers can result in violent reactions. Acetonitrile hydrolyzes on exposure to strong acids and bases. It is incompatible with reducing agents and alkali metals and may attack plastics, rubber, and some coatings.
Storage and Handling
Acetonitrile should be handled in the laboratory using the "basic prudent practices" described in Chapter 5.C, supplemented by the additional precautions for dealing with highly flammable substances (Chapter 5.F). In particular, acetonitrile should be used only in areas free of ignition sources, and quantities greater than 1 liter should be stored in tightly sealed metal containers in areas separate from oxidizers.
In the event of skin contact, immediately wash with soap and water and remove contaminated clothing. In case of eye contact, promptly wash with copious amounts of water for 15 min (lifting upper and lower lids occasionally) and obtain medical attention. If acetonitrile is ingested, obtain medical attention immediately. If large amounts of this compound are inhaled, move the person to fresh air and seek medical attention at once.
In the event of a spill, remove all ignition sources, soak up the acetonitrile with a spill pillow or absorbent material, place in an appropriate container, and dispose of properly. Evacuation and cleanup using respiratory and skin protection may be necessary in the event of a large spill or release in a confined area.
Excess acetonitrile and waste material containing this substance should be placed in an appropriate container, clearly labeled, and handled according to your institution's waste disposal guidelines. For more information on disposal procedures, see Chapter 7 of this volume.