Acetone Fire

July 31, 2008

What happened?

A student worker in a Berkeley campus laboratory was refilling squirt bottles with acetone from a larger dispensing container when he spilled approximately one cup of acetone liquid onto the floor. Due to lack of training, and/or an error in judgment, the student lit the acetone with a match to burn it off instead of following proper spill clean-up procedures. While doing so, the student accidentally knocked over another uncapped squirt bottle on the benchtop that was filled with acetone. This additional acetone ignited and set-off the fire sprinklers in the room, releasing approximately 3,000 gallons of water, flooding the lab and adjacent rooms, and causing considerable damage. Fortunately, the fire was extinguished and the student had only minor injuries.

Lessons Learned

  • Clean up spilled materials only if you are familiar with the hazards of the chemical and have been trained to do so and always use proper spill clean-up techniques. Never ignite spilled flammable liquids as a means of cleanup. Contact EH&S or your Department Safety Coordinator for training. If the spill is too large or you have not been trained to clean-up the spill, call EH&S at 510-642-3073 and request assistance.
  • Never intentionally ignite anything in a laboratory unless it is part of an approved, written procedure or standard practice.
  • Cap containers as soon as you are done actively using them. Capping containers will prevent spills if accidentally knocked over.
  • During the incident investigation, the employee's supervisor was unable to locate any documentation of relevant safety training on spill procedures. Supervisors are responsible for providing employees with training on the hazards of the job and documenting that training. Copies should then be provided to appropriate departmental personnel.


Safe Storage of Hazardous Chemicals Booklet