Sciencemadness Discussion Board

Hazards of storing white phosphorus?

AdamAlden - 24-7-2017 at 19:11

Could the storage of a few grams of white phosphorus under water in your typical average glass coffee drink bottle for 2-3 years in your bed room on a book shelf cause symptoms of exposure to a neurotoxin to surface? (Not to mention all of the exposure I got during the experiment + clean up)

white phosphorus snow globe.

[Edited on 25-7-2017 by AdamAlden]

APO - 24-7-2017 at 21:28

Wikipedia states that white phosphorus has slight solubility in water, in which case it would oxidize over time and eventually turn to a mix of phosphoric acid and other more stable phosphorus allotropes. Neither the more stable phosphorus allotropes or phosphoric acid are very volatile; neither would fume much.

If it were the content of white phosphorus itself being the culprit of these issues, chances are symptoms would be more acute and more physiological (think gastric distress, or etcetera) rather than a psychological disturbance.

It's notable phosphoric acid is in various sodas, and it's not extremely toxic to say the least.

Take a look here, a page on phosphorous poisoning symptoms.

Mind you what I've just mentioned is quick speculation. If you're very worried or for whatever reason, you may want to see a doctor.

Sulaiman - 25-7-2017 at 02:04

I had 500g white phosphorous under waterfor some time,
the main hazard is using glass, which could break and expose the phosphorous to the air.
In UK this is generally not too dangerous if you are quick,
but in Malaysia (where I used to live) the ambient temperature causes white phosphorous to ignite within a very short time,
and one burning stick of white phosphorous makes a LOT of choking white P2O5 smoke.

Other than the breakage/fire issue I would not worry about small quantities of phosphorous under water ...

AdamAlden - 3-8-2017 at 06:32

thanks for the information. I was probably fine after I got it under water but I just cant let go of the thought that it may have been releasing some type of phosphorous fumes due to the crude nature of the experiment. It looked like a bead of glass when it came out so I'm pretty sure it was very pure so typical storage under water should have resulted in the typical slow degradation byproducts.

to Sulaiman

Did you ever notice the spell of phosphorus when handling the container?

I'm pretty sure the worst exposure was during the clean up process because I tried to salvage the reaction pipe with a hole boring tool. I tried to hold my breath and walk away in between breaths but I'm sure I got a mixture of fine aluminum powder and reaction byproducts on my skin at the very least. I'm sure I breathed some in too but not enough to notice, however, I remember very clearly the flash to trapped white phosphorus pockets within the solidified reaction mixture when i reached it with the one foot long boring drill bit and I remember the way it smells... :o

Duff - 22-5-2020 at 12:32

What about storing white phosphorus in mineral oil? This webpage seems to suggest that it is possible:

White phosphorus must be stored in an inert medium away from oxygen, such as in mineral oil, as shown here.

Anyone know anything about the solubility/reactivity of phosphorus in/with mineral oil?

phosphorus2.jpeg - 35kB

chornedsnorkack - 23-5-2020 at 01:02

In hot aqueous alkali, white phosphorus dismutes, like
The resulting phosphine is volatile and poisonous.
Rapid dismutation happens in hot alkali. In cold neutral water, is phosphorus dismutation fast enough to result in buildup of phosphine in headspace or causing chronical poisoning?

Refinery - 23-5-2020 at 03:56

They recommend to store all reactive alkalis and phossy under mineral oil.

And unless you sip from the flask, there are no issues.

woelen - 23-5-2020 at 08:59

@Duff: That picture you show is a picture I made. I still have that sample. It is not under mineral oil, but under plain water! Apparently the author of that website has taken my picture and has put some wrong text besides that picture :(

I would not store white P under mineral oil. I expect it to be more soluble in apolar solvents than in water. Just keep it under water in a perfectly sealed vial. As long as no oxygen can reach the phosphorus, it is stable.

[Edited on 23-5-20 by woelen]

G-Coupled - 23-5-2020 at 09:31

What is this neurotoxin of which you speak? And AFAIK Phosphine is an acute poison - you'd know pretty damn quick if you'd been exposed to any kind of harmful amount of it.

IMO you seem to be worrying an unnatural amount about this - so long as you don't let it go all 'Willy Pete' and/or start taking nips from the jars, you'll be just fine. :)

Duff - 23-5-2020 at 11:24

Indeed woelen tracing the source of that image on the lumenlearning website leads to Wikipedia which then leads to your website. Water costs less than mineral oil anyway.

Mateo_swe - 24-5-2020 at 11:11

The red variant of P can be stored in a plastic container as most other chemicals, right?