Org Prep Daily

August 6, 2008

Raising the stink

Filed under: industry life — milkshake @ 2:46 pm

A colleague stank up the lab at my previous company with a disposable pipette tip from ethanedithiol. He dropped the tip into a trash bin outside his hood; people soon complained so he dumped the bin content into a big garbage container located in our parking lot. It was a searing-hot Arizona summer day with no wind – and the stink got taken in by the A/C system of our neighbour, a robotic engineering company.

The robotic company owned the whole building and needed more space to expand their business. They wanted us out but we had a long-term lease signed with them. For years the robotic guys have been coming up with arguments about how we violated the lease terms. They reported us to EPA repeatedly, for problems like “burying chemical waste in the desert” (they could not provide information where the stuff was burried or the witness that actually saw the incident). We had EPA on us all the time – and whenever the inspectors gave us a surprise visit it was always the robotic company that ended-up fined instead (machine oil spilled on the ground, etc) while we managed a passing grade with each inspection…

This time the robotic guys reported us to the Poison Control Center. Without telling anyone at our company, they complained that we sickened their employees (they instructed their employees to take the day off – and recommended them to report to a hospital for a check-up: they told them otherwise they wouldn’t be eligible for a work-disability compensation in case they would become later ill). The poison control in turn called the military and advised them about a “poison gas release” contaminating the place – and soon the experts from the nearby Air Force base arrived in full gear. Men in bunny suits appeared on the scene, walking slowly about our parking lot and taking samples of everything with the utmost care. 

There was a fire station located right next door too and these firemen were not that busy in the spread-out Oro Valley suburbs – they were usually putting out the brush fires on the Catalina foothills and when the desert was not burning they were there at their station hanging about. Their chief was organising drills and sports-like competitions to keep up the morale – occasionaly they were rolling fire hoses or running in their gear up and down our parking lot. So when the space-suit men showed up we were not concerned; and we were rather curious, watching them – we thought the firestation dudes were finally doing something interesting! Then a $50,000 bill came – and with it a lively debate commenced, about who is paying the astronauts.


  1. OMG! That was an incredibly stupid thing to do (tossing the tip outside of the fumehood)!

    The chem dept of the National University of Singapore smells of ethandiol all the time. It’s their “signature”. LOL!

    Comment by dilutedmagnetics — August 6, 2008 @ 9:23 pm

  2. I knew someone who once dropped a bottle of propanedithiol. It was one of those Murphy’s Law situations where the only time that a dropped bottle completely shatters is when it’s outside of the hood and it’s full of something nasty. I don’t remember how big the bottle was–not very big, but big enough. I wasn’t in the building at the time, but I remember walking by outside. There wasn’t any commotion, but I smelled it, so I just kept on walking and didn’t go back that day. A number of floor tiles in the lab had to be replaced, he had to burn all his clothes, and the smell lingered for some time, but nothing too bad came of it.

    Comment by zts — August 6, 2008 @ 10:50 pm

  3. Propane-1,3-dithiol has a foul meaty rather than skunky odor in low concentration. The lab must have smelled like a bad instant soup flavoring ever after.

    Diluted – yea, the dude was a seriously sleep-walking man – no thoughts, no ambition, no initiative, quiet and obedient. But people occasionaly make dumb mistakes (I have done more than my share of those). In this case the minor nuisance got blown up into a tremendous affair, and quite intentionally so – The robotic company management must have been aware that creating troubles for us with the authorities was the only way to get us out; things usually turn nasty once you have lawyers advising businesspeople on the best course of action. Fortunately our young and cheerful safety guy got very friendly with the environmental agency and he defended us against the ridiculous accusations every time.

    Comment by milkshake — August 6, 2008 @ 10:53 pm

  4. I believe the same thing happened in Vic Hruby’s lab about 20, 25 years ago… except they put it down the sink. The sewer line was connected to a middle school that apparently had to be evacuated because of the smell.

    Comment by excimer — August 6, 2008 @ 11:12 pm

  5. In the Netherlands last year a masters student I was standing next to dropped a bottle of t-BuSH (maybe 50 mL) on the lab floor…secretaries threwing up, space suit guys came, hundreds of phone calls from people in the city worried about gas leaks.
    Based on the people calling in the newspaper published a map of where the stick had wandered through the city and onwards to Germany.

    Comment by Pi* — August 7, 2008 @ 5:22 am

  6. I used propanethiol sometimes and i’ve always tried to wash all the glassware in the fumehood but i realise even when u soak in bleach it doesnt remove the stink immediately… like probably have to soak for a few days. Are there other better ways to quench thiols stuff?

    Comment by mr tin — August 7, 2008 @ 11:26 am

  7. Mr. Tin,

    I recommend KOH in isopropanol. It deprotonates the SH and that pretty much kills the smell.

    Comment by Bunsen Honeydew — August 7, 2008 @ 12:46 pm

  8. …that should teach them, Germans. They started it.

    I think tBuSH is not that terrible – I was using it for tBu thioesters on a large scale. EtSH is much more nauseatings, and many thiophenols are quite bad also. I remeber receiving a glass ampule of some volatile thiol in a can, and there was awful stink when I opened the can – so I checked the ampule and it was intact. The reek was seeping through the glass!

    Comment by milkshake — August 7, 2008 @ 2:37 pm

  9. …or on the outside of the ampule before it went into the can? Bit on the glove of the guy filling the ampule, on the bench where it was set, or dribbled down the side before it was sealed are all possible culprits. Because God help us when glass starts being considered a porous material.

    Comment by Stausty — August 8, 2008 @ 12:56 pm

  10. anyone ever prep’d Davy’s reagent? the rxn doesn’t seem TOO controllable (adding MeOH at 80degC,expecting further exotherm) not to mention the phosphorus pentasulfide smell. thought i’d throw it out there – seems right up milkshakes alley

    Comment by fng — August 8, 2008 @ 8:47 pm

  11. sorry, I never heard of the stuff

    Comment by milkshake — August 9, 2008 @ 2:55 pm

  12. wiki sez-The Davy reagent is identical to Lawesson’s reagent except in place of the para-methoxyphenyl groups it has aryl sulfide groups.

    Let’s take bad situation and make it much, much worse…. uggghhhh. Is your synthesis that desperate, FNG?

    Comment by Jose — August 9, 2008 @ 7:41 pm

  13. Seriously, there’s too much unnecessary hassle around thiols, especially these low-bp stinky bastards. And the funny thing is that people who would choose them as reagents would at the same time avoid benzene or carbon tet as if it’s something that instantly kills you. I’ve seen a cylinder of methanethiol… it gave me creeps. Tell you what: consider mercaptoethanol. It’s rather benign and has the necessary function.

    Comment by LiqC — August 15, 2008 @ 10:46 pm

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