Volume 94 Issue 46 | p. 10 | Concentrates
Issue Date: November 21, 2016

Safer emergency flares, thanks to a less toxic and more stable chemical for making smoke

Phosphorus(V) nitride could replace red phosphorus, which degrades into toxic compounds and can unexpectedly explode with friction
Department: Science & Technology
Keywords: safety, flares, industrial safety, green chemistry

Many emergency flares rely on a material called red phosphorus, one of the natural forms of the element, to produce billowing smoke that draws the rescuers’ attention. Researchers have been seeking an alternative because red phosphorus has multiple safety flaws. For example, it can ignite with a bit of impact or friction; red phosphorus is often added to match heads to help them ignite. Although useful in a match, the compound’s propensity to explode when . . .

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