Thursday, February 14, 2013

"I Know What This Is!"

When I was an undergrad, my advisor was once cleaning out a lab.  Like all labs, there were, of course, some unlabelled bottles full of clear liquids. 

(It is an invariant rule, in labs of all persuasions, that unlabelled anything should go for hazardous disposal by experts.  Because really, you don't know what it is.  Nobody actually does this because usually it's TBE or salt water or something lame.  My father, who is a safety consultant, then makes a fortune cleaning up after their disasters.)

She opened one such one-liter bottle of a clear liquid, sniffed it delicately, and declared, "I know what this is!", thinking it was hydrochloric acid.  (HCl has a very distinctive smell.)  So she turned the cold water on full blast and poured it slowly down the sink....

... and then they had to evacuate the building.  Because it was concentrated ammonium chloride, which smells just like HCl, but releases ammonia when it hits water.


When I was in grad school, I was once cleaning out the hood.  I opened a Falcon tube full of a clear liquid, thought "I know what this is!" and dumped it down the sink.  It was also ammonium chloride. 


Last month, my dear spouse was washing the dishes and cleaning the kitchen as he does every night.  He saw a big pot full of a yellowish liquid and said, "I know what this is!", thinking it was water from boiling something.  So he dumped it down the sink....

... it was 83 ounces of oils for soapmaking. 


(I will get back to you with the eventual plumbing bill.)

9 comments:

  1. Ouch. This may be the first time I'm glad that my husband does not do a thing in the kitchen.

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    1. I guess there's a silver lining for everything. Seriously, at least he could mop or something?

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    2. Well, he does unload the diswasher (and vacuum and some of the laundry, but that doesn't count as "kitchen" in my books) -- but yeah, bad on me for letting him get away with much less than 50%.

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  2. Hahahaha! About the lab chemicals. In grad school, we cleared off GraduatedStudent'sBench and it had all sorts of unlabeled bottles of clear liquid. We ended up pouring all the liquids into a big beaker in the fume hood to see what happened. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your POV) nothing exciting happened other than a little bit of smoke.

    I would not recommend that others try that. In fact, I am impressed by our stupidity. At least we used the fume hood.

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    1. OH MY GOD OH MY GOD. I... I can't even say anything except I'm glad you're still alive.

      Someone in Dr. S's lab poured a strong reducer into the solvent bottle and it caught fire. BIOLOGISTS!

      (All the biologists I knew also kept 10M NaOH in glass despite my repeated entreaties.)

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  3. I guess I'm glad it wasn't ammonium chloride! Because that would not indicate very good kitchen safety standards.

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    1. We do have weird chemicals in the kitchen for dyeing but they're way up high in Falcon tubes!

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  4. Oh, also, when I started my job I got a big packet of stuff from the IRB/research support people including a bunch of signs to hang in my lab indicating things like toxic chemicals! and bloodborne pathogens! and animals! and whatever. I was like these are funny! I should hang them up! And then I was like no, that's not a good idea...

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