Methyl Ethyl Ketone (MEK) is a clear and colorless liquid. It gives off a sweet, pungent odor like that of acetone. It has a flash point of approximately 21 degrees F and its vapors are heavier than air, causing them to settle near the floor when a container of MEK is open to the atmosphere.
MEK is a liquid solvent with properties that make it suitable for use in a number of different industries and applications.
What is MEK used for?
MEK is a popular choice of solvent for surface coatings (especially high solids coatings). More than 50 percent of the total MEK demand comes from the paints and coatings industry. The coatings made from MEK are used in the automotive, electrical and wood industries (e.g. Furniture).
It can also be used as an extraction agent for oils, fats, and waxes. This application is used in large-scale petrochemical operations to extract wax from base lubricating oils.
MEK occurs naturally in certain plants and is found in some fruit and vegetables in small concentrations. As is it approved by the FDA as an additive for adhesives and polymers, it can be found in the food packaging industry. MEK can also be used to extract fats from certain foods.
What are the dangers of MEK?
MEK is a highly flammable liquid, which can ignite at room temperature. It is also known to have negative health effects like irritating and burning eyes when people are exposed to liquid MEK. In its gaseous form, MEK irritates the eyes, nose, and throat and causes headaches, dizziness, and drowsiness. It can result in nausea or even unconsciousness.
The fact that MEK vapors are heavier than air can create a very dangerous environment where vapors gather at floor level and migrate quite far from the MEK source. If these vapors ignite, the fire will travel back to the MEK source along the vapor trail resulting in a significant explosion and fire.
How should it be stored?
As a flammable liquid, NFPA and OSHA standards dictate the quantities that may be stored inside buildings and in dedicated storage areas.
MEK should be stored in fire-rated storage buildings and lockers if located within 30 feet of an occupied structure. These buildings and lockers feature UL listed fire rated construction designs, and explosion-proof electrical components are used to provide an intrinsically safe storage environment. Two-hour and 4-hour fire rated storage buildings are available from US Chemical Storage.
When pouring MEK from one container to another, care must be taken to ground the containers to prevent a status discharge from causing an ignition. Quantities above one gallon must be kept in an approved safety can in order to comply with legislation.
List of standards for MEK storage
29 CFR OSHA 1910.106 – Flammable Liquids
NFPA 30 – Flammable and Combustible Liquids Code
Contact U.S. Chemical Storage to learn more about storage of MEK or to receive a complimentary quote. Our professional consultants can advise you on the best solution for your application as well as the regulatory requirements that are relevant to your industry.