Hydrogen peroxide: Why it is combustible even after using water

Hydrogen peroxide: Why it is combustible even after using water

Feature Deskdaily-bangladesh.com

Published: 15:54 6 June 2022  



A fire broke out at a container depot in Sitakunda, Chattogram on Saturday night. Then an explosion took place. The depot containers contained a chemical called “hydrogen peroxide”, the fire service said. As a result, such a terrible explosion has taken place.

Curiosity has arisen in the minds of many about this chemical substance. They want to know “why hydrogen peroxide exploded?” “Why this chemical fire cannot be doused by the water?” Let’s learn about hydrogen peroxide from top to bottom —

What is hydrogen peroxide?

Hydrogen peroxide is a chemical compound called H2O2 – a colourless liquid in pure form. Experts describe hydrogen peroxide as an oxidizing agent. It is generally called a “bleaching agent”.

Direct use of hydrogen peroxide is dangerous. Therefore, for safety reasons, its aqueous solution is always used in “moderate quantities”. Although it is not a combustible substance, experts say that if it is placed in the vicinity of a fire or combustible material, it can create a dangerous situation.

Where is it used?

Many companies in Bangladesh now produce hydrogen peroxide. It is used at the industrial level, e.g. —

  • Used for bleaching in the textile industry, especially, the dyeing industry.
  • Hydrogen peroxide is widely used in the aviation industry 
  • It is also used in the leather industry.
  • Used in various industries including water treatment.
  • It is also used in various necessary products including bathroom cleaning, and laundry.

Although hydrogen peroxide can be used for many purposes, it can be dangerous if not used properly at the right temperature.

Is hydrogen peroxide a combustible substance?

Hydrogen peroxide is not a combustible substance, but in some cases, it can cause fires. It does not ignite on its own but can combine with other substances to increase the risk of fire. In particular, hydrogen peroxide, if in pure or mixed form, can pose various risks -- the main fact is that it produces explosive compounds in contact with organic compounds. 

Hydrogen peroxide itself does not act as a fuel for the fire, however, it can intensify the fire. To understand the fire hazards associated with hydrogen peroxide, it is important to first know the elements needed for the fire.

Any type of fire needs 3 things – heat, fuel and oxygen. All three of these things are needed in the right amount to start a fire and keep it burning. Removing any one of these elements will extinguish the fire. This is how the fire is controlled and extinguished. 

Although hydrogen peroxide does not cause fire on its own, it acts as an “oxidizer”. An oxidizer is a chemical that adds oxygen or other elements (fluorine or chlorine) – which means the fire can burn without oxygen if an oxidizer is present. This means that oxidizers can intensify fires and even cause explosions. For this, the oxygen of hydrogen peroxide can increase the intensity of the fire and if there is enough fuel and heat, the fire is more likely to torch.

How does it increase the intensity of fire?

Dr. Ijaz Hossain, former head of the Department of Chemical Engineering at BUET, said hydrogen peroxide is an industrial chemical. It has to be used very carefully. There are containers to keep it separate. “If you want to keep it separately, you have to keep it in a special system,” he also said. 

Hydrogen peroxide should be kept in glass, stainless steel, aluminum or plastic containers as per the chemical preservation material safety datasheet. It reacts when it comes in contact with any other metal.

Dr. Ijaz Hossain says “what is around the place where hydrogen peroxide is kept? how long it is kept? -- all these things depend on how it will behave”. Moreover, at high temperatures, it can create an explosion. Although it is not a combustible substance, it is an oxidizing agent. That is, it acts as an oxidizer.

Oxidizers contain substances such as oxygen or fluorine or chlorine that can act as combustible substances. This means that if there is an oxidizing agent in the vicinity of a fire, it increases the level of the fire, the fire intensifies with sufficient heat and fuel, and an explosion can occur at this intensity.

How can this fire be extinguished?

Hydrogen peroxide can act as an explosive substance when in contact with water. Since it is a chemical compound, any fire caused by hydrogen peroxide cannot be extinguished with water.

Extinguishing such fires have another technique. It is possible to put out such fires in “fog systems”. Besides, such fires have to be extinguished with “foam or dry powder” fire extinguishers.

Experts suggest that it should be stored in a cool, dry, well-ventilated place. It is especially dangerous to keep it in contact with flammable chemicals.

It should be stored away from flammable substances – because if there is any combustible material or if there is hydrogen peroxide in the place of fire, the fire can go to a dangerous level and an explosion can also take place.