Combustible and flammable materials are often the source of serious burn injuries. Some liquids, such as gasoline and solvents, form vapors that can easily catch fire. The vapors burn, not the liquids. At a certain temperature a liquid gives off enough vapors to form an ignitable mixture with air. This temperature is called the flash point.
Flammable liquids are divided into two classes:
- Flammable liquids(for example, gasoline) have a flash point below 100º F or 38º C.
- Combustible liquids (for example, diesel fuel) have a flash point at or above 100º F or 38º C.
Ignition sources can ignite vapors that have traveled quite a distance from the actual liquid. Ignition sources are anything which can cause something to burn or explode. These include:
- cigarette lighters or matches
pilot light on a gas appliance
- static electricity
Examples of burn injuries and law suits resulting from flammable liquids and related explosions include:
Rocket Fuel Plant Explosion - Nevada
This suit concerned a rocket fuel (ammonium perchlorate) plant that exploded outside of Henderson, Nevada in May 1988. A consortium of insurance companies sued the rocket fuel plant and others to recover $77 million in damages to surrounding homes by the explosion shock wave.
Fertilizer (Ammonium Nitrate) Plant Explosion - Iowa
Cross Section of Neutralizer An ammonium nitrate plant exploded in December 1994 outside of Sioux City, Iowa. There were four deaths and many injuries. The explosion originated in the neutralizer where nitric acid and ammonia gas were mixed to form ammonium nitrate.
Pyrotechnics Explosion - California
Two Hispanic women were employed by a manufacturer of pyrotechnic and explosive devices. While preparing a batch of pyrotechnic ignition formula (red lead plus powdered silicon), static electricity allegedly ignited the ignition batch and the women were seriously burned. The attorney for the plaintiff alleged that the pyrotechnic ignition mix was dangerous to the degree that no safety measures could have prevented the accident. Hence, the plaintiff's attorney sued the company that ordered the pyrotechnic devices.