(See also section 7.C.1 and Chapter 6, section 6.G.2.5)

7.C.5.6 Heat Guns

Laboratory heat guns are constructed with a motor-driven fan that blows air over an electrically heated filament. They are frequently used to dry glassware or to heat the upper parts of a distillation apparatus during distillation of high-boiling point materials. The heating element in a heat gun typically becomes red-hot during use and, necessarily, cannot be enclosed. Also, the on/off switches and fan motors are not usually spark-free. Furthermore, heat guns are designed to pull lab air into and across the red-hot heating elements, thereby increasing the ignition risk. For these reasons, heat guns almost always pose a serious spark hazard (see Chapter 6, section 6.G.1). Never use them near open containers of flammable liquids, in environments where appreciable concentrations of flammable vapors may be present, or in laboratory chemical hoods used to remove flammable vapors. Household hair dryers may be substituted for laboratory heat guns only if they have three-conductor line cords or are double-insulated. Any handheld heating device of this type that will be used in a laboratory should have GFCI protection to ensure against electric shock.

7.C.5.7 Microwave Ovens

Use microwave ovens specifically designed for laboratory use. Domestic microwave ovens are not appropriate.

Microwave heating presents several potential hazards not commonly encountered with other heating methods: extremely rapid temperature and pressure rise, liquid superheating, arcing, and microwave leakage. Microwave ovens designed for the laboratory have built-in safety features and operation procedures to mitigate or eliminate these hazards. Users of such equipment must be thoroughly knowledgeable of operation procedures and safety devices and protocols before beginning experiments, especially when there is a possibility of fire (flammable solvents), overpressurization, or arcing (Foster and Cournoyer, 2005).

To avoid exposure to microwaves, never operate ovens with the doors open. Do not place wires and other objects between the sealing surface and the door on the oven’s front face. Keep the sealing surfaces absolutely clean. To avoid electrical hazards, the oven must be grounded. If use of an extension cord is necessary, use only a three-wire cord with a rating equal to or greater than that for the oven. To reduce the risk of fire in the oven, do not overheat samples. The oven must be closely watched when combustible materials are in it. Do not use metal containers or metal-containing objects (e.g., stir bars) in the microwave, because they can cause arcing.

In general, do not heat sealed containers in a microwave oven, because of the danger of explosion. If sealed containers must be used, select their materials carefully and the containers properly designed. Commercially available microwave acid digestion bombs, for example, incorporate a Teflon sample cup, a self-sealing Teflon O-ring, and a compressible pressure-relief valve. Do not exceed the manufacturer’s loading limits. For such applications, properly vent the microwave oven using an exhaust system. Placing a large item, such as a laboratory microwave or an oven, inside a chemical fume hood is not recommended.

Heating a container with a loosened cap or lid poses a significant risk. Microwave ovens can heat material (e.g., solidified agar) so quickly that, even though the container lid is loosened to accommodate expansion, the lid can seat upward against the threads and the container can explode. Screw caps must be removed from containers being microwaved. If the sterility of the contents must be preserved, screw caps may be replaced with cotton or foam plugs.

7.C.6 Distillation

Distillation of flammable and combustible solvents is dangerous due to the presence of heat and flammable vapors. Distillations should be maintained under inert atmosphere. At the completion of vacuum distillations, backfill the apparatus with inert gas. Perform such distillations in a chemical hood. Stills in use should be attended at all times and should have an automatic high-temperature shutoff. Distillation can sometimes be avoided by purchasing smaller quantities and high-purity solvents.

7.C.6.1 Solvent Stills

Solvent stills are used to produce dry, oxygen-free, high-purity solvents. Most high-purity solvents are commercially available in specialized kegs or may be obtained from column purification systems (see section 7.C.6.2); thus, thermal distillation processes should be a last resort. There have been numerous fires attributed to solvent stills, some resulting in serious injuries and extensive damage to the labs. [See, e.g., Yarnell (2002).]

The process involves reflux and distillation of organic solvents (many of which are flammable liquids) over drying materials, under nitrogen or argon gas. The most commonly used drying agents involve potentially pyrophoric metals: sodium metal/benzophenone and magnesium metal/iodine. The stills must be periodi-



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement