Organic Peroxide | Uses, Benefits, and Chemical Safety Facts

Organic Peroxide

Organic peroxides are used to initiate a process called polymerization, which creates plastic polymers. Organic peroxides are essential in the manufacture of plastics like polystyrene, polyvinyl chloride and composite products like fiberglass. There are hundreds of different organic peroxides, each with its own properties and uses that enable them to create different polymers with different qualities. 

Uses & Benefits

Organic peroxides are a family of chemical compounds used in the manufacture of a variety of plastics and construction materials, as well as in certain skin treatment products and pharmaceuticals.

Organic peroxides are used in a range of industrial applications:

  • The plastics and rubber industries are the heaviest users of organic peroxides. Organic peroxides and mixtures containing an organic peroxide are used as accelerators, activators, catalysts, cross-linking agents, curing agents, hardeners, initiators and promoters.
  • Unlike most other chemicals, the purpose of a peroxide is to decompose. In doing so it generates useful radicals that can form polymer resins, such as polyester and silicone, to make fiberglass and other products.

Safety Information

A number of organic peroxides are thermally unstable and must be stored at cold temperatures. Following recommended storage and handling practices can effectively reduce the risk of fires or explosions associated with organic peroxides. 

Manufacturers of organic peroxides follow strict safe handling procedures, which include storing peroxide containers in well-ventilated areas, away from any sources of heat or flame, and ensuring that these containers are kept at or below the maximum recommended storage temperature for the product.

In case of fire, safety guidance recommends using water spray, dry chemical, or carbon dioxide as extinguishing agents. Water is recommended for controlling and containing peroxide fires since it will provide better cooling, which will reduce the rate of peroxide decomposition and thereby reduce the energy that feeds the fire. However, water will not extinguish an organic peroxide fire. Most organic peroxides are lighter than water and can burn on top of liquid surfaces. Any fire will probably resemble a gasoline fire, and could be explosive and intense.

Organic peroxides decompose to form gases including hydrocarbons and some alcohols. Much of these would normally burn off in any fire that results from the organic peroxide decomposition, but some may be carried up by plumes of smoke from the fire. Smoke will be released into the atmosphere and dissipate.

Some organic peroxides also contain some solvent used to dilute the product, often making it safer to handle and store. The solvent used is odorless mineral spirits, similar to diesel fuel. Byproducts of this combustion would be similar to those seen in a typical diesel fuel.

In terms of human health impacts, direct exposure to organic peroxides may cause eye, skin and/or respiratory irritation, as well as nausea, drowsiness or dizziness. In case of exposure, contact a physician or go to the nearest hospital emergency room.