Burning up

Whether you loved Chemistry in school or hated it, there are some pretty amazing chemicals out there that deserve our respect, especially as some can be very dangerous indeed. Have you ever wondered about what substance is the most flammable in the world?

Depended on your terminology, Hydrogen can claim to be the most flammable element but the most flammable chemical is one called Chlorine Trifluoride or CIF3 for short. It is a bit of a bully as far as chemicals go and will start a fire with just about any material it comes into contact with. CIF3 is a colourless, corrosive and highly toxic gas or a greeny yellow in liquid form. It is so explosively violent in fact that it doesn’t even need a source of ignition to begin burning!

The power of this chemical is such that is surpasses the oxidizing power of oxygen and this is what allows it to ignite materials that are normally considered fire safe. It will burn sand, glass, concrete, asbestos and even flame retardants. Just because it can!

Frighteningly, the chemical will also ignite on human skin producing hydrochloric and hydrofluoric acid which burn right through flesh. Furthermore, hydrofluoric acid will pick out pain centres and attack bone causing possible deadly poisoning. Wow – who knew that chemistry could be so gory?


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Keeping CIF3 out of trouble is easy as we put it to work in nuclear reactor fuel processing and industrial operations. It can be found helping rockets to fly in rocket fuel and in industrial cleaners. It’s primary purpose though is in the production of uranium hexafluoride, UF6 for nuclear reactors.

We should take caution in our own homes and workplaces too. Ok so we probably don’t have any Chlorine Trifluoride in our kitchen cupboards but we do have plenty of other flammable objects. For Gloucester fire risk assessment, visit http://keloscape.co.uk/fire-assessment-gloucester/. Liquid disinfectant sprays and aerosol cans can be very flammable, as can drain cleaners. Liquid nail varnish and varnish remover, hairspray, body spray and bathroom cleaners are also combustible. Never use any of these things while next to a fireplace, burning candles or whilst smoking.

Lint that gathers in your tumble dryer is another source of a potential fire and quite a few of these have made the national news this year. Make sure you clean the lint trap and pipe regularly. Garages can also be a focal point for many flammable liquids such as gasoline, oil, antifreeze, paint, thinners and WD-40.