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Is Silicone Flammable? Material Information & Safety Tips

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Skye Rhodes

Ever wondered ‘is silicone flammable’?

Silicone is virtually everywhere – in our electronic devices, medicines, tablets, kitchenware, and even in ridiculously adorable silly putties.

Yet, this substance is so obscure that we do not even know its properties; if it’s flammable or harmful for the environment?

Ignorance is not always bliss, and knowing is silicone flammable about this polymer might save your life or at least make you a bit astute.

The term silicone is a portmanteau of the words silicon and ketone and refers to a large variety of polymers with the key chain of alternating silicon and oxygen atoms.

Highly cross-linked silicone also exhibit the properties of resins as they show low extensibility when placed in common organic solvents.

General Information

Silicon and silicone are two unique substances, and yet people can’t discern the difference.

Silicon is a semi-metallic element just below carbon in the periodic table.

Silicone is a wide range of synthetic polymers comprising silicon and oxygen atoms with no mention of it in the periodic table.

In this article, we’ll dig deeper into this obscure polymer, its basic properties, and how we are exposed to this polymer daily.

This article will also cover the roles of silicon in our daily life, the hazards involved, and some safety tips to ensure that no one has to endure the ugly side of silicone.

New York-born Chemist James Hyde, also dubbed the father of silicone, launched the commercial silicone industry after he led the first research to produce silicone commercially.

Frederick Stanley Kipping, using Hyde’s invaluable research, coined the term silicone.

He combined the words silicon and ketone, but the discovery of the molecular differences between ketone and silicone means that siloxane, not silicone is the proper modern chemical nomenclature.

And we can’t possibly forget James Wright.

He accidentally invented a substance during the Second World War, now commonly known as Silly Putty.

One of the most grossing toys of the twentieth century.

To put it modestly, silicone is an artificial polymer made up of silicon and oxygen.

It has become very popular because of its exceptional properties like heat and temperature resistance, low toxicity, inertness, and resistance to weathering.

Because of their chemical composition and molecular structure, they are synthesized in various forms.

These include solids, liquids, semi-solids, oils, and rubbers, making them one of the most versatile polymers on this earth.

Today, a wide variety of products use silicone one way or another, with estimates of about 3000 commercial products.

In 2019, the estimated market size of silicone was USD 14.7 billion, and it’s expected to expand at a rate of 3.7% from 2021 to 2027.

China leads global silicone consumption, consuming 42% of the total global production.

This is an increase from 36% in 2012, while the United States and Western Europe saw a decrease of 2% and 6% respectively.

We expect the market growth rate to dwindle a bit due to the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown restrictions, but chemical engineers are optimistic about the future.

Why Is Silicone Better than Other Elastomers?

Fire Resistance

Silicons are very fire resistant and not flammable due to their low thermal conductivity.

So much so that Fire Protective Coverings contain silicone foam that protects firefighters from skin damage.

Silicone doesn’t ignite easily because it has low thermal conductivity, which means it doesn’t give off toxic gases that imperil human health or the environment.

Thus, silicone is not easily flammable, which makes it suitable for household purposes.

Temperature Endurance

Silicon is virtually untouched by high temperatures and can maintain its mechanical properties up to 572 °F.

Because of the tightly bound backbone, it requires a lot of heat to break down its bonds.

Making its physical and chemical properties constant over the years.

At room temperature, chemical engineers estimate that it can retain its appearance for up to 20 years, meaning that a 20-year-old silicone vessel can look as good as new.

Low Toxicity

Silicone is very stable and rarely reacts with food or any other chemicals, which makes it a suitable material for kitchenware and bakeware.

Their inertness has countless benefits as it doesn’t stick with other surfaces but adheres to other surfaces easily.

They do not affect the immune system, which makes them a great substitute for people with plastic allergies.

That means you wouldn’t have to concern yourself with toxicity levels in your food or any hazardous fumes.

Environmental Resistance

Silicone can resist sunlight, humidity, and gases to an exceptional degree.

Rain, snow, or hail pose no threat to this polymer because of its exceptionally strong silicon and oxygen backbone that requires a lot of energy to break.

It’s also apt in desert-like conditions because of its resistance to sunlight and also in the ground where it doesn’t react with any of the minerals present in the sand.

Gas Permeability

Silicone rubber is undoubtedly one of the most permeable elastomers which makes it suitable for applications where there is a need for aeration.

Because of the flexible nature of the silicon-oxygen bond, it creates small openings that in turn, let small gases pass through.

Often applications require low permeability and high performance, which has made silicone rubber, one of the most marketable products in chemical production.

Silicone In Our Daily Life

Personal Care

Silicone in ingredients is widely used in personal care products like skincare, color cosmetics, and hair care applications.

This is because it provides aesthetics, shiny easily combed and styled hair, long-lasting makeup, and dramatic optical effects.

In skincare, silicone provides a soft emollient while being breathable but water repellent in sun-screen and boosting SPF.

Is silicone flammable also improves the answer to moisture and promotes a soft and refreshed skin feeling that in turn, improves radiance, and water resistance of skin formulas.

In antiperspirants and deodorants, they are easy to spread, feel warm and dry on the skin, and provide anti-whitening protection.

In color cosmetics, spread easily and give an elegant and silky feel.

They improve an even spread of pigments, while enriching colors and they are safe to use even on the most delicate skin.

For hair care, we widely use silicone in shampoos and conditioners to improve conditioning.

And also to meet the increased consumer demands such as heat protection, and color preservation enhanced gloss, and also to create a long-lasting soft feel.

Often people complain about acne breakouts after using a silicone-based product.

It’s because silicone can act as a barrier between the skin and the outer atmosphere, trapping oil, dust, and dead cells, leading to an acne breakout.

Avoid silicone-based products if you are prone to acne, but people with normal skin have nothing to worry about.

Although considered a low hazard polymer, silicone can make your skin look dehydrated by barring skin cells to absorb enough water.

Moisturizing your skin and drinking enough water can always minimize this hazard.

Medicine

We have used silicone in many novel biomedical applications because of its excellent biocompatibility and durability.

And a unique combination of high temperature and low-temperature elastomeric properties.

Long- and short-term implants in the form of a gel in breast implants, testicle implants, pectoral implants, contact lenses, and a variety of other medical devices such as medical tubing use silicone.

A variety of medical devices like medical tubing for tying off wounds, restricting blood flow, IVs, resistance training, use silicone.

Some other medical devices that use silicone include finger joints, blood pumps, ophthalmologist implants, drug delivery, and stent covering, oxygenators, and so on.

Medical grade silicone like Polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) is used to make scar treatment sheets and also in urethral catheters, which help drain urine from the bladder.

Microfluidics, seals, gaskets, and shrouds also contain a considerable amount of silicone.

Silicone materials are both non-toxic and nonallergic, making them suitable for facial prosthetics.

The Food and Drug Administration has always discouraged the use of silicone injection for body modification.

The FDA is very emphatic in its defiance against silicone injection and suggests American people, avoid injecting any kind of silicone injection to enhance any part of the body.

This is due to the increasing number of medical complications and death due to such an act.

It also suggests immediately to seek medical consultation if she is feeling breathing difficulties, chest pain, or signs of a stroke.

Silicone ruptures left unnoticed can cause various implications that harm the woman’s body.

If the leaking continues, it can also spread outside the breast and into distant lymph nodes.

If this happens, you are to seek a licensed doctor immediately who then removes the silicone implant from your body.

There have been also serious claims that the silicone gel can cause various autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, and cancer but these claims are not backed by enough scientific data.

Manufacturing

Over 115,000 tons of silicone products are used in the transport sector in the world every year.

These products include automotive, aerospace, marine, and aviation.

From enabling airbags in cars to preserving the cabin pressure in airplanes, silicone contributes immensely to the safety of such modern vehicles.

Silicone rubber, sealants, lubricants, and plastic additives are required in automotive, aerospace, aviation, and marine, because of their sticking nature, strength, and durability.

They use silicone in shock absorbents, and also to insulate and protect important electrical components in trains.

We use silicone in a wide range of car parts including airbags, engine gaskets, hydraulic bearings, ignition cables, shock absorbents, ventilation flaps, and spark plug boots.

Silicone sealant is a 2 and 2A category hazard, so one must be very cautious like wearing hand and eye protection gear while dealing with this hazard.

If it causes any irritation, one must immediately wipe off with a paper towel or a cloth and also wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water.

Kitchenware

Silicone is becoming an important product in the cookware industry.

Particularly bakeware and kitchen utensils since it’s a low-taint, and non-toxic material.

We use silicone for molding chocolate, ice, cookies, muffins, and various other foods.

We also use silicone as an insulator in heat-resistant potholders and similar items.

Silicone oven mitts can withstand high temperatures up to 260 °C, making it possible to reach into boiling water and also in baking sheets that use non-stick bakeware and reusable mats.

They use silicone in a variety of other products such as cookware lids, egg boilers or poachers, streamers, trivets, and kitchen mats.

Silicone cookware is excellent for oil-free or low-fat cooking.

It’s non-stick and easy to clean, and also it doesn’t affect the food flavor and doesn’t release any odors or toxic fumes during cooking.

Silicone cookware comes in different shapes and bright colors and is easier to handle than any other heavier metals.

Although considered safe for kitchenware, low-quality silicone contains fillers that may be toxic to human health.

So avoiding inferior quality silicone coatings from cheap stores might be a good idea.

Discerning superior quality silicone from inferior ones is quite easy.

You simply need to shake and twist to see if it forms white streaks on its surface, which is an indicator of low-quality silicone.

If a lot of white streaks appear, one must consider not to buy it.

Even though they are considered non-toxic, some studies show that baking or in low-grade silicone utensils can produce plastic fillers that are toxic to your health.

You shouldn’t bake or cook in those utensils.

You can’t confirm its quality, and while buying one, you must ask for food grade silicone only approved by the FDA.

Construction

The Burj Khalifa stands so tall, all thanks to the silicone, who despite strong winds and blazing heat, holds the building together.

First used about fifty years ago, the silicone industry still holds a large role to revolutionize the construction of lofty buildings.

Because of their water-resistance properties, they are often used to seal windows.

As it’s resistant to weathering, we often use it as an outdoor building material, and also because they’re both durable and versatile.

We also use sealants in the joints of aquariums to prevent water from passing through them.

Silicone sealant can cause skin irritation and serious eye irritation and is a 2 and 2A category hazard.

Use of hand protection like gloves and face protection like glasses, while dealing with a sealant, is strongly recommended.

If it gets in your eyes, rinse thoroughly with a lot of water until the irritation stops, but if it persists, you need medical attention immediately.

If you feel skin irritation, wash your hands immediately with soap and water until it stops.

Silicone vs Plastic: Which One Is Better for the Environment?

Although silicone is not best for the environment, it’s the perfect example of the lesser of the two evils phrase.

It doesn’t break down into small pieces, which makes it a perfect ally for combating ocean pollution.

When it ignites, it doesn’t give off carcinogenic fumes like plastics, which makes it more suitable for household purposes.

Due to its chemical composition, it doesn’t wear and tears so easily, making it an excellent choice for reusing and, to some extent recycling.

As mentioned above, it really is the case of the lesser of the two evils.

Silicone is not natural, so it’s non-biodegradable, making it no better than plastic in combating plastic pollution.

They are easy to reuse but are costly to recycle at the local level, creating more waste and ending up in our landfills.

So, they’re not a better substitute for plastics though, if used in lieu it can help us combat plastic pollution.

Silicone Regulation by Country/Region

The United States

The United States doesn’t regulate the silicone industry at the federal level but by the local and state governments.

In September of 2017, the Silicone Environmental, Health, and Safety Center, an offshoot of the American Chemistry Council, submitted its report to the United States Environmental Protection Agency that recommended no further restriction.

There is no FDA-approved silicone injection in the American market.

However, Oregon and Vermont have listed Decamethylcyclopentasiloxane, or D4 as Persistent, Bioaccumulative, and toxic or PBT.

Similarly, Maine has listed D4 and decamethylcyclopentasiloxane(D5) as PBTs, because of lack of consideration of exposure.

Minnesota has listed D5 and Dodecamethylcyclohexasiloxane (D6) as PBTs because of inclusion on hazard-based lists.

Europe

Europe has been very wary of D4 silicone and has banned its use in cosmetics as per Cosmetic Regulation No.

1223/2009.

The European Union Chemicals Management program after a scientific assessment for PBT characteristics adopted a restriction on the use of D4 and D5.

It has also proposed additional restrictions of D5, D6, and D6 in cosmetics and other professional uses such as dry-cleaning, washing, and cleaning products.

Canada

The Environment and Climate Change Canada, the environment-wing of the Canadian Government identified D4, D5, and D6 silicones as priorities for regulatory evaluation.

But concluded not to impose any restriction or concentration-based restriction on the use of any silicone because of a negligible effect on the environment.

Particularly, for the D5, the Canadian Environment Minister established the first Board of review who concluded that “siloxane D5 does not pose a danger to the environment or its ecological biodiversity.”

This led to the removal of D5 from a proposed list of toxic substances under the Canada Environmental Protection Act.

The Environment and Climate Change Canada also conducted its own research, which led the Environment Minister to conclude that “D6 is not entering the environment in a quantity or concentration or under conditions harmful to the environment.”

Japan

The Japan Chemical Substances Review Committee in December 2017, conducted an assessment on the state of D4, D5, and D6.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry Report concluded that D4, D5, and D6 meet the criteria for Persistent and Bioaccumulative (PB) substances in Japan.

The CSR Committee concluded to add D4 and D6 to the Chemical Substance Control Law (CSCL) ‘monitoring chemicals’ category, though didn’t recommend any change in the state of D5.

Australia

The Department of the Environment and Energy, carried out a risk assessment on a range of silicone materials, including D3, D4, D5, D6, D7.

It found no evidence of an immediate environmental threat by its usage.

Based on this research, the Australian Government has decided not to propose any regulatory restrictions on the use of silicone.

Final Thoughts

Is silicone flammable?

No silicone is not flammable under normal conditions but can combust if subjected to higher temperatures.

If they ignite, they don’t produce any hazardous fumes, unlike plastic, making them a better alternative than plastic for household purposes.

Silicone is highly heat and temperature resistant, making it one of the most important and versatile polymers.

We can use them in a range of sectors including manufacturing, construction, personal care, medicine, and kitchenware.

When it comes to choosing plastics or silicone for environmental protection, it’s just the lesser of the two evils, as silicone is non-biodegradable and weathering-resistant.

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