Scariest things I have seen

I was getting some chemicals for Boomershoot today. I was standing at the loading dock waiting from my stuff to arrive and I saw several plastic drums.

This is some of the scariest stuff I have actually seen in real life:


These drums have hundreds of pounds of extremely strong acid in them. They were on the loading dock which was about chest high. Then, while I was standing there a guy driving a fork lift bumped into them. I didn’t run, but I certainly was moving out of there in a purposeful manner preparing my option to engage warp drive.

16 thoughts on “Scariest things I have seen

  1. It’s not unheard-of for a careless forklift driver to spear one of those drums, or to drop one while racking/reracking the pallet, etc. Makes for quite a mess when that happens.

    Source: working in the chemical industry (not as a forklift operator).

    P.S. HF is not considered a “strong” acid, but it’s extremely nasty stuff. It will eat through glass & any skin contact leaves severe, extremely painful burns.

    • I knew about how nasty it was. I didn’t bother to look up the PH. I was sloppy. Sorry about that.

    • IIRC Hydrofluoric acid eats the calcium from your bones. Requires arterial calcium infusions.

      • it does that. sulfuric is mostly just materially destructive — the fumes irritate mucous membranes, and can corrode them if you’re forced to keep breathing them in for any length of time in spite of the discomfort, but aren’t immediately dangerous to health. but the next time you wash the clothes you were wearing when exposed to those fumes, you may find various cotton parts will fall to pieces.

        still, i’d happily deal with sulfuric acid over HF. the effect that hydrofluoric has on your biology, i’m not too big to admit, scares me. that stuff can leave you with lifelong injuries so freaking easily.

  2. Back in the early ’70’s I worked at an electronics facility that had its own plating department. I got to know the guys that worked that department. Their comments about the dangers of hydrofluoric acid pretty much trumps any other acid out there.

  3. Derek Lowe’s “Things I Won’t Work With” FOOF post is a classic:

    And from here:

    Describing ClF3 …

    ”It is, of course, extremely toxic, but that’s the least of the problem. It is hypergolic with every known fuel, and so rapidly hypergolic that no ignition delay has ever been measured. It is also hypergolic with such things as cloth, wood, and test engineers, not to mention asbestos, sand, and water-with which it reacts explosively. It can be kept in some of the ordinary structural metals-steel, copper, aluminium, etc.-because of the formation of a thin film of insoluble metal fluoride which protects the bulk of the metal, just as the invisible coat of oxide on aluminium keeps it from burning up in the atmosphere. If, however, this coat is melted or scrubbed off, and has no chance to reform, the operator is confronted with the problem of coping with a metal-fluorine fire. For dealing with this situation, I have always recommended a good pair of running shoes.”

    • I was about to point to that blog. The guy is a great writer, and he describes all manner of interesting things. Stuff that explodes at the slightest provocation, nasty smelly things, etc.
      Then there is the book “Ignition!” (copy available online), about rocket fuel research. There is a chapter about the study of ClF3 as a potential rocket fuel, including the incident that Derek Lowe refers to in that blog article. To wit, an accident where a large tank full of ClF3 cracked open, spilling its contents and setting the concrete floor of the building on fire.

  4. In an earlier life, I managed a tankline that used large quantities of Nitric-Hydroflouric Acid to etch titanium products. With that stuff, there was no such thing as an incidental spill. The fumes from etching titanium are exceptionally toxic and small amounts will cause permanent lung damage. Liquid splashed on the skin, in any amount bought a ride to the hospital post haste where an inter venous drip was used to provide sufficient calcium to keep the hydroflouric acid from attacking the bones. This is really nasty stuff. My former employer has had a couple spills of this material that have been very dramatic to say the least.

  5. Didn’t this acid figure prominently in an earlier post about rocketry and “hard-starts”?

  6. At least it was stationary and positioned in such a way to make the labels accessible and readable, offering some warning to the chemically educated as to potentially necessary prophylactic ambulatory measures; what’s scarier is a couple drums of it concealed in the truck alongside you on the highway, piloted by a texting-obsessed Cletus or Billy Bob. I’ve seen catalytic reageants side-by-side in the same truck because the shipping department either wasn’t smart enough to not put them together on the truck or wanted to save delivery money.

  7. Holy cow. Set warp factor to Pucker Level 10, Sulu.

    “You’re in a steel box stuffed full of explosives. Believe me when I tell you that black drum is the most dangerous thing in here.”

  8. I noticed those warning labels must have been written by lawyers, as opposed to people with functioning brains. Consider the 93% sulphuric acid, described as may be corrosive to metals.

    • as compared to what it’ll do to organic material, sulfuric acid’s really only mildly corrosive to metals.

      (i’ve heard tell, but not actually seen, that wooden stirring sticks will carbonize remarkably quickly.)

  9. Remember, always add the acid to the water, not the other way around.

    Doing it the other way around, by adding water to acid, produces geysers of superheated steam blowing acid all over the place.

  10. If I remember passages from the book “The Curve Of Binding Energy” by Geoffrey Norman, hydrofluoric acid is combined with uranium oxide to create a gas. This gas is sent through miles of tubes, with incredibly thin filters at intervals, which separate the U-235 isotopes- needed for atomic bombs- from the more numerous U-238 isotopes., ( A difference of three (3) neutrons per atom.) This process was invented about the same time Teflon was discovered, one of the few materials that could stand up to the corrosive gas. Nearly all the early Teflon production went straight into the Manhattan Project.

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