Risks associated with pentane
Chemicals are very present in the workplace and particularly in industry. They are sometimes used and handled without taking into account the dangers they represent. However, it is important to know that any exposure, even a short one and to small quantities, represents a risk for the worker. In addition, workers are usually exposed to several chemicals at the same time. Pentane is one of these hazardous chemicals.
Pentane presents 3 main risks: a physical risk, a health risk and an environmental risk.
1. What is pentane?
Pentane is an alkane with the formula C₅H₁₂. It is a fuel. Traces of pentane are found in raw natural gas.
Pentane is a colorless liquid with a significant gasoline-like odor. In addition to being a component of raw natural gas, pentane has many industrial uses. Primarily, pentane is used to create a blowing agent that is then used to create a foam: polystyrene. Polystyrene is typically used to make insulation materials, such as for refrigerators and heating pipes.
Regularly used in industry, pentane can be present in liquid or gaseous form.
1.1. The use of pentane
Polystyrene foam is found everywhere and in many forms, including building insulation, packaging, and disposable cups. All varieties of foam are commercially manufactured from a single material: spherical beads of high-density expandable polystyrene (PS-E).
In industrial boiler rooms, for example, pentane is used to create insulating foams in heating or cooling systems.
1.2 How to create polystyrene in an ecological way?
A German-Dutch company has devised a system for making polystyrene beads without dispersing Volatile Organic Compounds into the environment.
Currently, the beads are created using a blowing agent: pentane. The polystyrene then retains a certain amount of pentane after processing, and slowly releases it into the atmosphere during storage and handling. However, pentane has adverse effects on health and the environment, as well as a fire hazard.
The proposed alternative is therefore to use water as a blowing agent.
2. The dangers of pentane
Pentane presents three main types of hazards:
2.1. Physical hazard
Because pentane is a fuel, it can ignite very quickly in the presence of an oxidizer and a heat source. In liquid or gaseous form, pentane is highly flammable (H225). Therefore, it is important to be vigilant about the presence of heat sources (matches, cigarettes, etc.) to prevent fires from starting.
In the event of a fire, the first person to be alerted must activate the building's fire alarm. The emergency services must be alerted as soon as possible. Then, you must evacuate the premises and go to an assembly area, if available. The census must be done in order to verify the evacuation of all.
2.2. Health hazard
The first signs of intoxication are breathing difficulties. Inhalation of high concentrations of vapors may cause symptoms such as headache, dizziness, fatigue, nausea and vomiting.
Pentane can be fatal if swallowed and enters the respiratory tract (H304). If swallowed, call a poison control center or doctor immediately. If inhaled, move person to an open area where they can breathe comfortably.
Pentane may also cause drowsiness or dizziness (H336).
2.3. Environmental hazard
Pentane is toxic to the environment in general, and mainly to aquatic organisms (H411). It can cause long term effects on the aquatic environment but also on the flora in general, so it is strongly recommended not to let this product contaminate the environment.
3. How to protect yourself?
- Collective protection
For optimal protection in an industrial environment, collective protection must first be ensured, by being vigilant about the quantities of pentane or pentane-based products stored in the premises, but also by installing a fixed gas detection system that will make it possible to detect pentane leaks in gaseous form.
- Personal protection
If you handle pentane, even occasionally, it is important to protect yourself effectively. It is essential that personal protective equipment be made available to personnel, including work clothes, waterproof gloves and safety glasses. These items should be kept in good condition and cleaned after each use.
In addition, personal protection may be recommended in the case of activities in enclosed spaces such as a tank. This protection will take the form of a portable gas detector, worn by the worker who descends into these so-called confined spaces. Respiratory protection may also be recommended.
Find below the different equipments proposed by BE ATEX for your gas detection and respiratory protection.
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