View Full Version : Simple Chemistry/Toxicology of Gopher Bombs Question.

2012-Jul-09, 04:32 PM
Don't you hate it when something you were very familiar with thirty years ago comes up in conversation, and your brain just has a complete stall?

Yes sir, happened to me this weekend.

The smoke bombs consist of 45% potassium nitrate, 45% sulfer and 8% carbon, the rest inert binders.

The smoke produced by the gopher bomb has a evil reaction with the moisure in the lungs of the intended targets, and I used to know what it was.

I used to also know the name of the main gas given off by burning these things, plus the reaction when mixed with water.

Any help to jog the ol' memory will be much appreciated.

2012-Jul-09, 04:49 PM
At first glance, that would appear to just be a black powder formulation, perfect for Captain Kirk to mix up and kill lizard people with (Star Trek reference ;)).

Here (http://www.musketeer.ch/blackpowder/recipe.html) is a webpage with the recipe and the chemistry. In a shoichiometric mix, the sulfur should just end up forming potassium sulfide, which would go into the smoke and ash.

But that looks like it has extra sulfur in it. I'd suspect the sulfur would form SO3, or something like that, and would sort of act like a fog of mild sulfuric acid, but that's just a guess.

2012-Jul-09, 05:26 PM
You've got quite an excess of sulphur in that mixture compared to standard gunpowder. Because of that, you will get irritant sulphur-oxidation products when the excess sulpur burns in air.

I'm guessing you'd have sulphur dioxide (SO2, very irritant to the respiratory system), and maybe carbonyl sulphide (COS, smells like something died) and traces of other smelly sulphur compounds.

The SO2 at least will cause copious mucus production, tears, and fluid in the lungs in more serious exposures. It forms sulphurous acid when dissolved in aqueous media.

2012-Jul-09, 05:46 PM
This reminds me of my lab days in Organic Chemistry. "Do not ingest, breathe the compound or allow it on your skin, etc ..." I'd read in the manual. Then I'd ask myself "Why the devil am I anyware near such awful stuff?"

2012-Jul-09, 06:26 PM
Then I'd ask myself "Why the devil am I anyware near such awful stuff?"
Because explosions are fun! http://www.rubstudent.de/RS6/Forum/images/smilies/rs6/28_explosion.gif

Hey kids, don't try this at home!

2012-Jul-09, 06:40 PM
This reminds me of my lab days in Organic Chemistry. "Do not ingest, breathe or compound or allow it on your skin, etc ..." I'd read in the manual. Then I'd ask myself "Why the devil am I anyware near such awful stuff?"

Because you need to write a blog, like this gentleman (http://pipeline.corante.com/archives/things_i_wont_work_with/)?

2012-Jul-09, 07:07 PM
This reminds me of my lab days in Organic Chemistry. "Do not ingest, breathe or compound or allow it on your skin, etc ..." I'd read in the manual. Then I'd ask myself "Why the devil am I anyware near such awful stuff?"

For a short time - before going back to school to get my degree - I worked in a research lab making and testing new acrylate compounds. Since acrylates can be skin irritants, I always made sure to wear plastic gloves while handling them.

One day, the research chemist gave me a new formulation to make. It included an acrylate we hadn't used before - glycidyl methacrylate, I think. As he was walking away, he said over his shoulder, "Oh, be sure to wear your gloves with that one. It's a contact poison."

2012-Jul-10, 12:29 AM
"You've made trinitrobenzene! That's just one step short of TNT!"

mike alexander
2012-Jul-12, 04:22 PM
Trinitrobenzene itself is used as an explosive.

Trinotroanything should be handled with respect.

2012-Jul-12, 04:38 PM
this reminds me of a solid fuel we used in rockets at school, it was powdered zinc and sulphur with more zinc than stochiometric ratio to add thrust, it is a fast burn, not an explosive; so much safer to make and handle. I can still remember the smell and it worked well as a propellent.

2012-Jul-12, 06:37 PM
For some reason liquid mercury and Skippy peanutbutter explodes.

With a distinctly purple flash.

Hey, I was as surprised as anybody.

2012-Jul-12, 06:55 PM
Let me elaborate on that last post.

About thirty years ago a friend of mines young nephew had a quantity of liquid mercury from a large garden thermometer that had broke the top of its glass column in a storm. I'd say about two teaspoons.

The only container he had was an empty peanut butter jar that was retreived from the trash.

He was rolling it around in the jar and we both noticed that the mercury suddenly lost its luster and turned a dull grey. I started to get creeped out by the change as, y + x does not equal y, as long as x is a non-zero term. I thought the luster change was a distinctly non-zero term. And I knew enough to be afraid of organic mercury compounds.

So I confiscated the jar under guise of buying it from him for a dollar, (spares hard feelings), and because I didn't want it around anymore

Darn, I hit post instead of go advanced

I'll continue in the next post.

2012-Jul-12, 07:19 PM
I started to huck the contents into a big yard fire they had going to burn storm debris. (I figured the large updraft would act like a make-shift fume hood. Plus I was upwind.)

I didn't allow for the "weight" and only used enough force to fling out water, so as a result most of the mercury caught on the rim of the peanut butter jar and stayed in and a bit the size of a pea landed on a hot spot and there was a very "high brisance" reaction that cleared an area of ash about a foot across.

Subsequent "experimention" showed that little bits of this stuff could put out enough force to sting your face while you were standing upright and throwing it three or four feet away. Bright purple flash every time.

Now a warning to kids who might read this:

It is said that metallic mercury is the least toxic form, but there is one very important exception to this statement.

Heated metallic mercury vapors inhaled into your lungs will flat out kill you. Slowly, horribly and not a darn thing doctors can do for you but watch.

It sets up a situation where the phagocytic white blood cells attack the mercury atoms and they themselves succumb to the toxicity. The dying wbc's signal your body to produce more wbcs and they inturn engulf the dead wbcs and unengulfed mercury atoms and *they* die. You will keep repeating this until you've exhausted your white count and your ability to produce more white blood cells.

DON'T try this at home!

2012-Jul-12, 07:20 PM
I'm very scared.
Mercury, explode, purple and Big Don as a kid. This can't be good.
Then to top it off with suspense? Yikes.

ETA: crossed paths with the continuance. I think my fear is justified.

2012-Jul-12, 08:28 PM
If you look at this document (https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:imPaP0bXUKcJ:www.umanitoba.ca/outreach/crystal/resources%2520for%2520teachers/Atomic%2520Spectra%2520Activity%2520C12-2-02.doc+mercury+flame+test+color&hl=en&gl=us&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESiS_FCr36xwrLFY3SZ769HwEk1I8MIIvuqCiKOk OKdfoGcLI2qm9ogQ_u8T-G2M68vbzMuDIjjMRgF7VTTDh9_mz9fyvr3cnLAZZgiP4_g3XCo HIn7p6eLI6ZCjSN4Wou3xafRk&sig=AHIEtbQU0vC4XteOlCkwpuck2O2qXkj5XQ) (its a chemistry lab) on the spectral lines of various gases, and scroll down to the sixth page, they show the emission lines for mercury. There are several, but one is very purple, though the green line is the strongest. I'm not exactly sure why you saw more purple than green. I don't think it was the reaction with the peanut butter.

2012-Jul-13, 03:39 PM
Wow I liked that although not much chance any more to play with liquid mercury. Unlike at school where we had big leather pouches of it for physics experiments. I remember my father testing the temperature of tea with a MIG thermometer which promptly broke. He drank the tea down to a low level, refusing to waste a good cuppa. Then on Sark I met a pair of lighthouse keepers sucking all the spilled drops from the lighthouse head which was, like many, supported on a ring of mercury for a low friction bearing. Not any more of course. Also rember the suspended coil of wire ending in a pool of mercury which showed magneto- constriction and sparked merrily purple sparks as the wire pulled out of the mercury. Thanks for the memory jogging plus on the explosive theme our whole lab was evacuated because a friend was trying to silver plate his rather large pen-knife. It's a wonder we survived school in those days.

2012-Jul-15, 04:53 AM
Mixing mercury with organics is never a good idea - there are two ways to end up brain dead screwing around with mercury: Heating and inhaling vapors; or forming organometallics that are easily metabolized.

I'm not sure what happened with the peanut butter. There are nitrates in peanut butter and hydrated oils; so there could be a mercury fulminate-like derivative; but that would really surprise me - you generally need nitric acid to ramp up to a primary explosive like Don seems to have delivered.

Meanwhile, back at gopher bombs - several years ago an exterminator was using such to wipe out gophers in a Salt Lake City suburb. He used way too much way to close to the home and the gas drifted into the basement, killing two little girls; but not instantly - they died horrible asphixiation deaths from damage to their lungs. If I remember right, they said the noxious fumes generated phosgene gas - C02Cl; formed from carbon monoxide and chlorine. If there is no chorine in the bombs, similar sulfuric derivatives are just as deadly.

2012-Jul-16, 03:04 AM
Maybe someone had peed in the jar? Or maybe it was something in the fire (fuel or ashes)?

2012-Jul-16, 12:09 PM
There are shock-sensitive mercury compounds, mercury fulminate is a detonator, mercury azide also I think. But I can't think how it got formed in macroscopic amounts from peanut butter. Maybe the jar had been used to store something else after the peanut butter?