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The fire risk of Intermediate Bulk Containers (IBCs)

Intermediate bulk containers are closed shipping vessels with a liquid capacity from 450 up to 3,000 L (119 to 793 gallons). They are intended for storing and transporting liquids defined in the Code of Federal Regulations and the United Nations’ Recommendations on the Transport of Dangerous Goods, which include combustible and flammable liquids. These rules, however, do not require any fire testing of IBCs.

Plastic Intermediate Bulk Containers (IBCs) are popular for shipping large quantities of liquids. But some of these containers also create a dangerous hazard.

When unlisted composite IBCs (those that have not been inspected or certified to provide any fire endurance) containing combustible and flammable liquids are stored in large quantities they pose a high risk for pool fires. They melt quickly in fires, allowing large pools of liquid to spill and rapidly spread the fire. Additionally, once the IBC is emptied, the composite may ignite and contribute to the fire.

Pool fires can occur faster than the fire protection system can respond and control them, and become catastrophic events as a result. 


Limited compliance with rules that reduce the risk

Chapters 9, 12 and 16 of NFPA 30, Flammable and Combustible Liquids Code, published by the National Fire Protection Association, establish rules for reducing this risk. But compliance is limited.

  • Misunderstood rules
    Many believe U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and United Nations regulations permitting shipping of combustible and some flammable liquids in IBCs also apply to their storage. But DOT has no jurisdiction over commodities in storage.
  • Unawareness of the risk
    Warehouse or facility personnel responsible for accepting or storing goods often don’t know of the serious fire danger created by unlisted composite IBCs containing combustible and flammable liquids. As a result, improper storage often goes unrecognized.

Use this website to learn more about complying with NFPA 30 and how you can help reduce the risk for dangerous pool fires.

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Sponsored by The Fire Protection Research Foundation and Property Insurance Research Group


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