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Monomers Into Polymers

     Monomers can be thought of as the constituents of polymers. What this statement refers to is how these molecular units are related to each other, rather than their pure chemical make-up. When monomers form polymers they do change into a new compound with its own set of unique chemical properties. This change is what gives polymers their vast use in industry and in many common place materials that can save us time and maintenance in our daily lives.
     Monomers can be thought of as a bag of individual chain links all floating separate next to each other, but not connected. In the monomer state they remain this way, through the application of an “Inhibitor”. An inhibitor is essentially the reverse of a catalyst. The inhibitor PREVENTS a reaction from taking place. For emergency response, the inhibitor has its challenges. Inhibitors are time dependent as to how long they will continue to be effective, or prevent a reaction. Inhibitors are also affected by sunlight and exterior temperature. If the time lapses longer than the effective rate of the inhibitors life or exterior temperatures increase or the monomer becomes exposed to sunlight, polymerization can occur. This is exactly what has happened in these photographs.
     When polymerization occurs, all the floating chain links combine together to form one long chain, quickly! When this occurs in an industrial process reactor, the result is a new desired product which can then be formed into all manner of things we use in our daily lives. However, if it occurs outside of this reactor process, such as in a transportation vehicle involved in an accident three things are likely to occur:

  1. Tremendous heat is evolved by the polymerization process.
  2. Rapid expansion occurs.
  3. Violent shaking of the vessel containing the monomers evolves.

    All three of these challenges can injure emergency responders in close proximity of a container with a failed inhibitor. Extra heat can burn responders or hinder firefighting operations. Rapid expansion can overflow into other areas making the environmental spill worse or cause an explosion of the vessel injuring responders from blast and container shrapnel. Violent shaking of a container can disconnect one vessel from another causing more contamination or physical injury to workers or responders.
     The greatest hazard for responders when dealing with monomers is the potential for polymerization and detonation. The main challenge will be to determine the length of time you have until the inhibitor wears out. After that, detonation can be imminent. As you can see by these photographs, this turned out to be a slow leak of the polymer transformation yielding the traditional “Green Goo” we Haz-Mat people are known for. Can you imagine the injury and damage potential if this 55 gallon had detonated? Respect polymerization potential, especially if it’s next to 1075!

Haz-Mat Mike

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