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In an effort to limit the availability of various hazardous chemicals or to limit their impact, various laws have been passed over the years with the purpose to restrict or regulate various chemicals or lab equipment with various degrees of success. However, very often, due to a variety of reasons ranging from badly phrased text, laws written without consulting experts in the domain, bad science or simply a desire to have the laws passed for political gain, many such laws are either incomplete, cannot be properly enforced, or have loopholes that often allow for the restriction to be circumvented with little inconvenience. This page will present examples of various regulatory quirks found for many chemicals and lab/scientific equipment in the laws of many countries.
- 1 Chemicals
- 2 Chemistry equipment
- 3 Other
- 4 References
Ammonium sulfamate is no longer an accepted herbicide in the EU since 2008 due to the Irish Rapporteur not receiving testing on dogs for said chemical and thus the compound did not receive the license to be allowed as herbicide. However, ammonium sulfamate is still legally allowed to be used as compost accelerator. Since both products are found in the same section of most stores (gardening), nothing will stop anyone who knew that the compost accelerator can also be used as herbicide to, well, use it as herbicide.
Although benzaldehyde is classified as List I precursor in many countries, not all countries classify this substance as drug precursor, even though toluene, which is usually a precursor for making benzaldehyde, is classified as List II precursor in those countries's legislation. Likewise, bitter almond oil, which is essentially crude benzaldehyde, is not covered in all countries as drug precursor. In US for example, bitter almond oil is classified as drug precursor, while in Canada is not.
Although benzaldehyde, benzyl chloride, toluene are classified as drug precursors of different types in most countries that enforce the United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, benzyl alcohol, which may be used as precursor to synthesize all the three mentioned compounds, is not classified as drug precursor in any country, and is readily available without any restrictions.
In US, under ATF regulations, binary explosives are not classified as explosive materials, when kept as separate components. However, the moment they are mixed, the resulting mixture is considered explosive material. This means that one can potentially have a "just add water" bomb-making material without breaking the law.
In EU, the sale of sodium and potassium chlorate/perchlorates is forbidden to private persons and only companies are allowed to handle them, and must obtain an explosive permit for working with these 4 compounds. However, the restriction does not seem to cover the other chlorates and perchlorates, at least at directive level, meaning that all the other metal chlorates/perchlorates can be acquired without a problem, unless the member country specifically restricts said compound. This also seems to include perchloric acid (which can be used to make any perchlorate), unless local laws classify it as explosive precursor, and, unless classified as explosive material, ammonium perchlorate (explosive on its own) is exempted from the EU-wide restriction. Other energetic compounds like guanidinium perchlorate also seem to fall in this issue.
Chlorates are a decomposition product of hypochlorite salts aka bleach. Thus, any old bottle of bleach will contain a significant (though not large) amount of chlorates, specifically sodium chlorate. The directive does not mention any exception for accidental/side production of chlorates/perchlorates in any form.
In almost all countries, food-grade distilled ethanol is subjected to taxes (excise duty on alcohol), which drives up the cost of liquors and rectified spirits. To avoid these taxes, concentrated ethanol is denatured (turned poisonous, bad-tasting, foul-smelling or nauseating) by adding various additives, making it unfit for human consumption. This practice is also done for lab-grade ethanol, while non-denatured lab-grade ethanol has a similar price to the food-grade rectified spirit. Some countries, like Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania allow the production of small amounts of home distilled liquor up to a limit or sometimes said practices are ignored by the authorities if the deed is not worth pursuing legally due to low resources or more often local tradition regarding cultural alcohol production.
All drug precursor lists (DEA List e.g.) list diethyl ether as List II precursor (used in the manufacturing of controlled substances). However, no other ether is present on the list, even though for this intended purpose (organic extractions), other ethers are just as good. Diisopropyl ether, while extremely hazardous on its own since it rapidly builds up explosive peroxides over the course of a few months, can be easily made from isopropanol, which, unlike ethanol, is easily and cheaply available in high concentration at most hardware stores.
Tetrahydrofuran can also be used instead of diethyl ether for many reactions (including Grignard reactions) and in most Western countries there aren't restrictions on its use or possession, though in a few countries like Russia it's possession and use are restricted.
Hydrogen iodide/Hydroiodic acid are classified as List I precursor in US by the DEA, meaning their sale is regulated. However, HI can be easily made by adding conc. phosphoric acid to an iodide salt, both readily available reagents and not classified as precursors. Also, since HI is unstable in the presence of air and or light, the acid itself can be stored separately in the form of salt and acid, without breaking any laws.
In the EU, all hydrogen peroxide in concentrations higher than 12% is forbidden to be sold to private individuals. However, sodium percarbonate, which contains 32.5% H2O2 by weight is not restricted at all. Granted, extracting the peroxide from the percarbonate is not easy, but it does appear that the restriction only covers liquids containing H2O2.
Iodine is classified as List I precursor in US by the DEA, meaning its sale is regulated. However, elemental iodine can be easily made from any iodide salt (which are not classified as precursors) by simply reacting the iodide with a mixture of sulfuric acid and hydrogen peroxide, or just with Oxone. Likewise, given that elemental iodine is not easy to store, keeping the iodide and the oxidizer/acid separately is also a good way of storing iodine for long term and will also ignore any legal problems associated with the element.
In many countries, like Italy or Austria, methanol is classified as poison and the sale of the compound is regulated or restricted to private individuals. However, methanol-based fuels, which consist mainly of methanol with a few additives added do not appear to be subjected to the same restrictions. RC fuels containing methanol also don't appear to be restricted. Occasionally, some technical alcohols used for cleaning in auto parts are also almost pure methanol (with some dye added) and is sometimes sold in auto part shops or sometimes even hardware stores, depending on the country.
Pentaerythritol tetranitrate (PETN) is a common explosive material used in both military and civilian applications due to its great performances. Although the commerce of PETN explosive materials is strongly regulated, PETN is also used as vasodilator drug to treat certain heart conditions, such as for management of angina. The drug Lentonitrat is described as being "pure PETN", and it is sold in many countries, under different brand names..
Although it's made from two DEA List I chemicals (phosphorus and iodine) and upon hydrolysis (which can also occur by simply leaving the compound in open air), PI3 releases another List I chemical (hydroiodic acid), phosphorus triiodide is curiously not listed in the DEA List of chemicals. However, PI3's status is covered by the same legislation that covers phosphorus halides and individuals normally cannot purchase it.
Although Prussian blue is not classified as illegal compound, hazardous, poison or even precursor, assuming it's even included in any classification, its use in many common products has declined over the years, since it's "cyanide". As such, overzealous authorities may consider it true cyanide salt/poison and treat it as such, even though the compound is inert to most reagents and even stomach digestion.
In a ridiculous decision to limit drug manufacturing, Texas has restricted the sale of Erlenmeyer flasks and a permit is required to purchase them. The restriction does not appear to cover flasks with a similar function and appearance, like Florence flasks, fleakers or side-arm flasks.
In the United States, the sale of all heating mantles with a volume of 22 liters (5.8 US gallons) are monitored, as these devices are placed in the DEA Special Surveillance List, in the equipment section. There are no mentions if heating mantles with a volume smaller or larger are also included nor is any explanation given as to why this exact volume was selected for special surveillance by the DEA.
In most countries, as well as US, it is not required to posses a permit for owning a distillation still or apparatus. It is also permitted to distill almost any liquid, like water, essential oils, hydrocarbon solvents, etc. While it's legal to distill alcohols like methanol, propanol, iropropanol, butanol, etc., distillation of ethanol requires a distillation permit. However, while this is true for distilling food-grade ethanol, distilling denatured ethanol is a complicated matter, as in some countries there is no distinction between the distillation of food-grade ethanol and the denatured variety, while in others there is. In the US, for distilling ethanol fuel, a Federal Fuel Alcohol Permit is required. This permit however, does not cover the production of food-grade ethanol. For distilling consumable alcohol, a Federal Distilled Spirits Permit is necessary. Neither permits can be used to distill the other type of ethanol, so if you need to distill non-food grade ethanol and you have the Federal Distilled Spirits Permit, you will have to apply for the other permit to legally distill the technical alcohol, and if you want to distill both types, you will need both type of permits.
In many countries around the world, there are legal rules regarding the use and ownership of alcoholic beverage distillation equipment, which do not cover other form of distillation equipment, mainly since such items are not certified for alcohol distillation.
Rotavaps are legal to own and use, but you may not distill ethanol with it.
Although commercial water distillers can be used for distilling alcohol, it is still not legal to do so, since it's the distillation activity that's regulated by the law, and not a specific distillation apparatus. N̶o̶t̶ ̶t̶h̶a̶t̶ ̶a̶n̶y̶o̶n̶e̶ ̶w̶i̶l̶l̶ ̶a̶s̶k̶.̶.̶.
A supersimple distillation still can be made by simply taking a large pot, placing the desired liquid inside, then placing a jar or flask in the middle of the pot, covering the pot with its lid turned upside down. The resulting liquid condenses on the inside of the lid (works better if you add some ice on its outside curve), which then pours in the receiving flask. Since this isn't a distillation apparatus in its official sense, and it's basically just a simple hack of a typical kitchen pot (which works by refluxing its volatile liquids), it's unclear how this would be legally classified, though since you can collect the resulting distilled liquid, it may be still classified as distillation.
Most regulations forbid the release of lab-grade reagents down the drain or in the municipal sewage system. The laws are written in such way, that even dumping certain harmless lab-grade reagents, like acetic, citric, tartaric acids and their salts, sodium hydroxide, various alcohols and esters, that not only encountered as OTC products but are also disposed of by being poured down the drain, may be considered illegal. However, so far nobody has been prosecuted for doing this, so there is no clear answer (so far) what is legal to pour down the drain and what is not.