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January 2016 - Keeping Water Away From Where It Shouldn't Be

Though water is a fundamental material for fire protection, processes and domestic usage, there are times where water shouldn't be in some places.

How Water Can Be a Problem

Water can be a reactive chemical, generating heat and pressure. The products of the reaction can be toxic and corrosive. The most famous case is the Bhopal incident: water entered a tank containing methyl isocyanate. The reaction generated heat and pressure, causing the tank to fail and releasing material into the neighboring communities.

Water can also be a catalyst to chemical reactions. For example, a distillation residue was contaminated with water (in that case, only 1%). But a small amount lowered the decomposition temperature of the residue by over 200° F. The pipe carrying the residue was provided with a steam jacket, with the temperature of the steam above the reduced decomposition temperature of the residue. The residue decomposed, causing the pipe to rupture.

Water itself can create a physical explosion. When boiled, water vapor will increase in volume by 1,600 to 1,700 times its liquid volume. If water is allowed to enter a confined space, it will increase in pressure if not allowed to vent. The most common instances are water-tube boilers where the tubes fail or smelt-water reactions in chemical recovery boilers.

What Can You Do to Prevent Water From Becoming a Problem

Risk Logic can provide guidance where water can be a hazard to your processes.