Explosion with sodium azide in DMSO-CH2Cl2

N. P. Peet
P. M. Weintraub
Marion Merrell Dow Research Institute, Cincinatti

Chemical & Engineering News (19 Apr 1993) Vol. 71, No. 16, pp. 4.

An explosion occurred when an extract from an epoxide-opening reaction containing sodium azide, methylene chloride, dimethyl sulfoxide, and sulfuric acid was being concentrated on a rotary evaporator. Glass shrapnel from the rotary evaporator broke a laboratory window and the lip of a laboratory shelf and lodged in the chest, arm, and face of the chemist. The injured chemist was taken to the hospital and underwent a chemical decontamination procedure prior to the removal of glass from his wounds and having his lacerations sutured. Fortunately, he was able to return to work in four days and suffered no permanent physical injuries.

Another explosion, similarly involving sodium azide and methylene chloride, has previously been reported in this forum by L. Bretherick (C&EN, Dec. 22, 1986, page 2). The culprit in these detonations is undoubtedly diazidomethane, which is unstable in high concentrations in solution. The hazards of diazidomethane (and triazidomethane) have been well documented by Alfred Hassner et al. [Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. Engl., 25, 479 (1986), J. Org. Chem., 55, 2304 (1990)].

We currently do not permit any chemical reactions with azide to be performed in the presence of a halogenated solvent. Moreover, we now review the reaction conditions and scale for any reactions planned in our laboratories involving azide, prior to implementation.

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