- Laboratory Equipment
As stated on the MSDS and also on the container labels, LiAlH4 should be handled under argon. LiAlH4 is advertised and sold as a powder. If the researcher had to scrape it out of the jar, then it was no longer a powder, which seems indicative of past reaction that may have been due to exposure to atmospheric moisture.
The manufacturer stated that they do not have any first-hand data suggesting that friction alone could cause ignition. All of their handling of LiAlH4 is performed inside a glove bag under an argon atmosphere, so they have never had a fire during the packaging process. They recommend handling LiAlH4 under argon in a glove box or glove bag to minimize oxygen and moisture contact and, therefore, minimize the chance of a fire.
The university ES&H department did some searching online and found several relevant websites that provide confirmation that friction alone in the presence of air may be able to ignite LiAlH4.
http://www.erowid.org/chemicals/dmt/dmt_synthesis1.shtml (scroll down to step 3)
Since the university has adopted the following standard operating procedures, there has not been a reoccurrence of this type of incident:
Only non-metal spatulas are to be used with metal hydrides.
All work with metal hydrides must be done under an inert gas atmosphere (either argon or nitrogen).