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Fatal Accident from exploding waste drum

The Incident

During a production of a silicone derivative, a waste drum exploded with a large fireball, this caused 90% burns to a nearby operator, who later died

The Investigation


The starting silicone A (above) is reacted with dimethylaminoethanol with a catalyst to make the product.  After the batch, the waste liquid from the reflux line was added to a waste container which has some A in it.   A few minutes later the drum exploded.  It appears that the liquid in the reflux line contained small amounts of byproducts (Et3N and MeOH) which catalysed an unexpected violent reaction producing MeSiH3.  Further investigation shows general instability with alcohols/strong bases.

Follow Up

To prove that the investigation was correct (after all, most of the evidence was destroyed in the fire), a test drum was set up, in a controlled area, to see the effect of the mixing.  Ten minutes or so passed uneventually, then there was a slight increase (1°C) in temperature observed, and then the drum blew up.   High speed film shows there was only 0.01 second from the drum changing shape (as pressure was generated) to the fireball.

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