Making it Safer

One approach to safety is to try to minimise risk by reducing the probability an accident will happen. This will include:

  • Regular checks on valves, pipe-work and other equipment
  • Constant computerised monitoring of pressures and temperatures
  • Automatic "failsafe" systems to shut reactors down if conditions deteriorate

Procedures like these are, of course, necessary to maximise safety. The "greener" approach, however, is to look also at the hazard presented by the materials used, and find safer alternatives where possible. This may mean using different reactions or using the chemicals in a different way.



Bio-availability

Potentially toxic materials can only result in actual harm if they are ingested or absorbed by people and so are able to react within the body - we would say they are then "bio-available". This is much more likely if an accident occurs with a volatile liquid or a gas but is less likely with solids, which are therefore inherently safer. Insoluble solids are also much safer if they are not in the form of very fine powders (have a particle size greater than 10µm).

Several common reactions can in fact be carried out in the solid state simply by grinding the reactants together. The challenge for researchers is to make this viable on a large scale.


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