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j_sum1
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shocked.gif posted on 20-2-2019 at 06:09
The Wump Incident


This is not some b-grade knock-off of a Robert Ludlum novel; despite the title.

(Although that could be a good Whimsy thread by itself... Describe your day in the lab as though it was a Robert Ludlum novel. "The Surfactant Instigation" in which I begin to wash a pile of glassware.)



No. Thus is the Wump Incident -- an event that I alluded to recently in the bad days in the lab and with glassware thread. Let me cut straight to the morals of the story.
  • Don't underestimate how quickly you can become complacent with the things you are handling.
  • Even when you think you have thought things through, you might in fact be doing something really stoopid
  • PPE and small incremental changes in scale can save your life.


Ok. Now for the story.
I recently purchased some Red P which I know will be useful for so many things -- although I don't have any immediate plans other than preparing a sample for the element collection. Because it is something that I have not really handled before, I decided to conduct a couple of small experiments to get familiar with its properties.

I figured its power as a reducer was a sensible place to start so I reached for an oxidant to compliment. The wise among you are already rolling your eyes and thinking, "You did what?" To my utter idiotic shame, yes I did. First jar in my oxidiser storage was some potassium chlorate.

I put maybe 0.1g of each on a brick outside, mixed loosely and ignited it with some tissue paper. It gave a very satisfying "wump" noise, and, being dark, a really interesting incandescence. Great! I thought. Maybe scale up a fraction. A small spoonful of each reactant on some tissue paper. Mix. Twist. Ignite the paper and stand clear. This time there was a significant percussion and a lovely fireball. I stamped out the grass fires and then chatted to my wife who happened to see it through the window. I packed everything away and called it a night.

A couple of evenings later, we had just finished dinner on the deck. The sun was about to go down and the kids were about to get ready for bed. This can be quite the process in my household so I figured some incentives were in order. I promised to demonstrate the wump after they were ready. This kind of thing is not unusual in my house. My son (7) in particular loves science. He always asks really perceptive questions. And he has a decent knowledge base. The week earlier I promised to show him a metal he had not seen before and his immediate response was, "Is it sodium?" He can probably name about half the 118 elements and could tell you either the symbols or some properties of many of them.

Anyway, back to the story. I figured I would be a good chemist this time, actually calculate some stoichiometry and weigh things and mix properly rather than randomly shove stuff together. Still working sub-gram scale, I weighed out an 0.88g charge into a tiny 10mL beaker and began to mix with a glass rod. This was a fraction larger than my previous attempt and I thought I was being sensible and cautious. For some reason I did not even consider that my mixture might be friction-sensative.

No prize for guessing what happened next. The explosion was significant. My first conscious thought was "That was stupid -- should have anticipated that one."
My second thought was that although my ears were ringing, I could still hear fine and I knew I had not blown my ear-drums. Then I saw blood on my hand where there used to be a beaker and blood splattered on the bench and floor. I immediately clenched my fist to put pressure on the bleeding, raised my arm above my head and proceeded upstairs to where my family had thought the worst. A shout-out to wearing safety glasses too.

Pain kicked in, but I was not going to open my hand to see the damage. I picked an inopportune time for my little stunt: Ambulance staff were spread thin that evening due to a number of simultaneous serious events. Nevertheless, paramedics were there within half an hour. That half hour seemed really long. I could not sit still. I was told not to take any painkillers; although I doubt they would have had much effect in that time. The pain ramped up. I thought of Yamato71. I discovered a couple of little cuts and bruises elsewhere on my body. And I breathed thankfulness that it was just my hand. My eyes, ears and face were unscathed.

I was triaged at the emergency department of the local hospital. The hardest thing was explaining over and over again what had happened and justifying being a hobby chemist with what were quite obviously dangerous chemicals (which nobody could write down correctly or had any clue what they were.) I ended up saying that they were essentially the same ingredients found in matches, which I know is streching things somewhat, but better than "potassium" and "pyrous" that was being recorded. How the hell did I not think of friction sensativity? Somehow, when people roll their eyes at you, it is a lot more difficult to take when you know you have done something doofus.

As I said, it was a busy night at A&E. The ambos had bandaged my hand well and I did get a brief glimpse of the damage. Pain was subsiding. There were 20 people already in the waiting room when I was ushered there and a whole bunch of more serious cases behind the closed doors. Waiting, waiting, waiting.

Just on midnight, five hours after the incident I was brought in to see a doctor, and to explain the story again. My hand was brown. Some was blood, but a lot of it was unreacted phosphorus. I got to thinking what things might have been like if the reaction had gone to completion. There were dozens of tiny cuts and about half a dozen bigger ones. I could see only one piece of glass. It was not very clear how many of the bigger cuts, if any, still contained glass. With all the mess, it was not even clear what was cut and what was dried blood and red phosphorus. After some discussion, the doctor agreed to let me bathe my own hand. Once again, I was thankful. Things could have gone a lot lot worse.

After some Xrays, it was clear that I would need to be admitted and that I would need surgery to properly clean the wound and remove all the glass. Not actually too many fragments present, but some were sizable and lodged quite deeply. This was not going to get done on the spot with some local anaesthetic.

It was 2:00am before I was on the orthopedic ward, in bed, with all the paperwork completed. The bed was ridiculously unconfortable. There were the usual hospital noises of machines beeping and people scurrying. Plus other noises. The guys in the beds next to me were half deaf and talked loudly and crassly at half-past three. I guess they couldn't sleep either. One mentioned, "before I got me leg cut off". I thought of Arkoma.

Dawn was a parade of nurses briefing for the shift change-over. This was followed by a parade of doctors, one of whom explained to me what I already knew. I asked about his run-sheet for the day. It had been a busy night. I would go into theatre some time after two young kids, one of whom had impaled his foot. As it turned out, I would be after a collar-bone reconstruction too.

Lots of waiting. I got to wear one of those backless surgical gowns all hungry day. They pumped fluids and prophylactic antibiotics into me. I got to drag my tubes and drips to the toilet several times. With the backless gown. Waiting. People came and left all day. Both of the night-talkers were amputees. They were also day-talkers. I had Youtube and ear plugs. With the arrival of the evening meal I was told that I had been bumped to the next day. Mr collar-bone-reconstruction arrived. He had titanium plates and screws and a lovely family and a mouth like a sewer. He had earned his hardware in a pub fight the night before. He and Amputee1 talked expletive politics loudly for four hours. Then he was discharged. His lovely wife came to pick him up.

I did get surgery the middle of the next day. All the glass is gone. There is no vascular damage. There is no nerve damage. One tendon is slightly compromised and has been stitched. It will heal fully. I have done that particular injury before. My lovely family came to pick me up. And, apart from the anaesthetic, it looks like I will get through the entire experience without needing a single painkiller. Again, I am very thankful.

So, dramatic and undoubtedly very stupid. Annoying and frustrating. But ultimately very little harm done. Potentially, it is a dangerous hobby. I have to walk away with some lessons learned.

I don't know if I can justify hobby chemistry to other people. I don't have to justify it to myself. I didn't break my bones in a drunken brawl. I did not lose my leg from overeating and obesity-induced diabetes. I am much more like the excited kid who stood on something sharp. Preventable, yes. But worthy of criticism for my hobby? Probably not.

I do need to be thankful. There is a lot that could have gone worse. And there are a lot of people who don't have it so good.

This thread definitely belongs in Beginnings. I am still learning. Long may it stay that way.

2019-02-18 22.25.46.jpg - 393kB 2019-02-18 23.33.53.jpg - 241kB 2019-02-18 23.39.10.jpg - 626kB

[edit, pix reordered]

[Edited on 20-2-2019 by j_sum1]
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DavidJR
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[*] posted on 20-2-2019 at 06:21


Ouch! I'm glad you are doing okay now, however.
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[*] posted on 20-2-2019 at 06:35


I am glad that it turned out OK.

As a consolation;
within hours of you posting the first x-ray photograph I was digging some Pt cured silicone rubber out of a 100ml beaker,
the rubber was really stubborn - but nothing can out-stubborn me, so I got more energetic,
just as I was poking and scrapin I thought of your x-ray and calmed down,
potentially saving me from a similar injury.
So, thanks for posting.

About two years ago I bought myself a cute little pestle and mortar,
when it arrived I wanted to 'test' it,
I had some fine magnesium powder and some KMnO4 crystals so I ground the crystals to a fine powder and mixed in the magnesium powder,
I had made this type of flash powder many times as a youth so I called my family and a visitor to watch the flash,
WOW ! what a difference fine particle size and good mixing makes - BOOM !
(the powder mixture was un-confined ! )
So many ways to mess up :)




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[*] posted on 20-2-2019 at 06:36


OMG why were you wearing shoes on a bed/ward?! Σ(゚Д゚|||)



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[*] posted on 20-2-2019 at 07:42


This reminds me a similar incident many many years ago in a polystyrene (unexpanded) container that shattered rather rapidly. I was more or less unhurt (plastic shrapnel doesn't penetrate very far), but I learned my lesson.



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[*] posted on 20-2-2019 at 09:13


i think that eventually eberybody will have a similiar story to tell. it's quite easy to screw up something, not always we are able to think clearly of EVERYTHING that could happen, but when it happens it could go "well" like you or me in the past (a diy rocket motor in a metal case exploded right in front of my face the exact moment i tried to light it, the metal case went just over my head at bullet speed, 10cm lower and liveleak would have another gore video), but could go terribly wrong, and maybe could be the last thing someone did




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[*] posted on 20-2-2019 at 09:14


Wow, j_sum1! Please be careful there buddy!

You made a composition called Armstrongs Mixture.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armstrong%27s_mixture

Quote:

Because of its sensitivity to shock, friction and flame, Armstrong's mixture is an extremely dangerous explosive. Only about 10 mg of it is used per item of consumer fireworks. Depending on composition, conditions and quantity, Armstrong's mixture can explode violently in an enclosed space.[3] Due to extreme sensitivity to friction, mixing dry potassium chlorate and red phosphorus will most likely lead to an explosion, hence the ingredients are usually combined in a slurry with water, formed into the final product (for example, single drops onto paper for "paper caps") and allowed to dry. To decrease sensitivity, oil can be added.




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[*] posted on 20-2-2019 at 09:20


I'm glad you're ok.
(Great writing style by the way)

If your son decides to pick up the hobby you can probably be assured that he'll stay away from so called "death mixes" :)
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[*] posted on 20-2-2019 at 09:24


Too bad to hear! Happily you will probably be fine without too much permanent damage. I'm scared of Armstrongs, I never even bothered lighting it, I just poked it with a stick.
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[*] posted on 20-2-2019 at 09:28


I am happy to hear that you are OK and that you have learned an indelible lesson about chemistry. I was worried about having white P around due to the fire hazard so converted it all to PCl5.

I don't do explosives or fireworks since my youth when I made dangerous pipe bombs. But I have had a few close calls. A phosphorus fire in my hood was illuminating but mostly I was worried about the voluminous white smoke billowing out my hood fan exhaust. If an alarmed neighbor had called the fire dept I would have had an awful experience like Victor Deeb did with his baby bottle lab.

I do experiment with high pressure which is potentially very dangerous. When working with hot caustic I do wear maximum PPE and have the hood glass down. Caustic scars on my hood walls are the evidence of things not going well.

I have taken an hiatus away from chemistry to learn mechatronics. But I should be back in the lab by May or so.

When I thought I had splashed some con HCl into my eye I came up with a story to explain this to the medical people: "I was cleaning carbonate stains off the inside of my toilet bowl." Incidentally this does work well.




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[*] posted on 20-2-2019 at 10:53


Woelen was also caught off guard by this mix, although it sounds like he had more of a 'whoosh' and less of a 'bang', and no glass fragments were involved.

I guess I've technically made a mistake with it too, by tapping a roll of toy caps (stabilized Armstrong mix) with a stone at age 8. Instant ear ringing. My mom had been hearing me using the cap gun, but came running after hearing a much louder boom. I think I cooked half a dozen caps with that one inpact, in spite of them being desensitized with glue and protected by layers of paper.

The power and sensitivity of many chlorate-fuel mixtures, and the flammability and moderate ignition point of phosphorous would suggest that the combination could be dangerous. But at first glance it wouldn't seem that it would be sensitive enough to ignite from gentle mixing! It's been suggested that phosphorus has a trace of phosphoric acid in it that helps provoke the chlorate.

I can only imagine how hard that was to explain to the doctors, and am happy it hasn't led to legal issues so far. Also glad you will likely make a complete recovery, I hope it's a quick one too.
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[*] posted on 20-2-2019 at 15:43


Yikes - that looks worse than the time I had glass tubing snap in my hand. Here's hoping it mends up fast.

In other news, we used to have a farmcat named Wump. His "incidents" usually involved camping under the birdfeeder or crapping in the milking room.




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[*] posted on 20-2-2019 at 16:40


Well I also had an accident a week ago, in my attempt to produce phenylacetamide with a steel tube that rotated inside a handmade oven, the reaction took 4 hours pprox, after cooling try to open the stopper, and emanated SH2, the next day I tried to open and the same smelling my workshop.
Then I went to the river in my city where there were no neighbors nearby and I opened the stopper. A product geyser came out violently and splashed my hair, face and clothes. The shit is mainly ammonium sulfide. the first two days was unbearable and almost a reason for marriage divorce, my clothes are contaminated, the smell in my hair still lingers and I contaminate my pillow. I have postponed the trial. Fortunately, no bodily injury occurred, underestimate the danger.
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[*] posted on 21-2-2019 at 07:08
Glad that you are ok!


Thank you for posting that story, and the pictures
of your hand and the Xray.

I am glad that it was a relatively minor injury.

It could happen to any of us.

Stuff like this is always a not-so-subtle reminder
of the forces contained within the ingredients we
occasionally work with.

That's quite a picture you paint of the other guys
in your hospital room. Takes all kinds, I guess...




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[*] posted on 21-2-2019 at 07:43


Well, looks like the armstrong made your arm weak.

My worst mistake was mixing Manganese heptoxide with hexamine, but that ended with ringing in the ears only.

I guess someone has to make mistakes for others to learn from.

Stay safe!




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[*] posted on 21-2-2019 at 08:09


Wow. I'm glad that you're alright, J. It definitely could have been much worse. I have to say though, your storytelling is absolutely masterful!

When first reading it, I thought your inclusion of the imagery about the other people in the hospital (the barfight guy, the amputees, and the kid) was just to set the scene, but when you brought it back around to make a point at the end, of how injuries that are sustained in "normal" ways are just as (if not more) unnecessary and reckless than what happened to you, that was really spectacular.




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[*] posted on 21-2-2019 at 08:39


Definitely kudos for the story telling.
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[*] posted on 21-2-2019 at 15:41


As a teen I was loaned a book on demonstrations by an awesome high school teacher. I made a lot of the pop style Armstrong mix twisted up in paper as a after reading the section about Armstrong's mix. I never blew myself up but when grinding the components together I always did it under a layer of acetone. It would dry out after separating in hours rather than days...
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[*] posted on 21-2-2019 at 18:21


Glad your Ok, but had a good larf at "Then I thought of Arkoma". This is as I sit here distilling ether and smoking......................


*Edit* In my kitchen LOL

[Edited on 2-22-2019 by arkoma]




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[*] posted on 22-2-2019 at 01:17


"That's awesome Dad. Can we do it again tomorrow night?"



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[*] posted on 22-2-2019 at 09:44


Lucky that it was such a small amount you prepared, that Armstrong's mix is some nasty shit for something that can be mixed together so simply.
Those temporary lapses of judgement can change your life forever with energetic materials.

One question, what did the hospital staff think of your injuries, were they suspicious?
I have always thought the authorities would be notified if you present to a hospital with explosion related injuries.




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[*] posted on 22-2-2019 at 10:35


Quote:
One question, what did the hospital staff think of your injuries, were they suspicious?
I have always thought the authorities would be notified if you present to a hospital with explosion related injuries.


That highly depends on the country you're in. I know in the Netherlands you can walk in high as a kite with a friend who is having an overdose and I wouldn't be afraid to walk in with injuries caused by explosives. I heard different stories about the States though.

Walking in with injuries caused by someone else is a different story of course. Edit: that is not true I realize now... You don't want to scare victims of abuse from going to the hospital because they want to protect their partner.

[Edited on 22-2-2019 by Tsjerk]
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[*] posted on 22-2-2019 at 10:44


One lovely day, maybe 3 or 4 years ago, I decided to make my first thermite. First batch went fine, it was just a few grams of Al and some metal oxide (not sure which metal it was) ignited with KMnO4+glycerol.
I made a second batch, the glycerol ignited but thermite reaction didn't proceed. I thought I havent mixed the powders properly.
So, without realizing there could still be some unreacted glycerol and KMnO4 present (which there totally was btw.), I started mixing it with a stir rod. The leftover glycerol ignited and grilled my hand nicely.
AFTERMATH: I'm an idiot. Lucky idiot After I washed my hand from the dust I found about 1" long blister on my thumb and a smaller one on index finger. Nails on both fingers were black and skin of the nail folds was white.
I disinfected it properly and luckily the whole thing healed in about 2weeks.
I've learned a lesson, but I still can't comprehend how could I have been so stupid.

[Edited on 22-2-2019 by crystal grower]




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[*] posted on 22-2-2019 at 11:49


J_Sum...Oef... painful to watch these glass shards...Hopefully the surgeon managed to pick all of them out, even the smallest ones remaining can cause discomfort for a long time (been there). All things considered maybe you can consider yourself lucky after all, in the worst case 1 gram of these things could have left you blind, deaf or with a couple of missing fingers. Curiosity is a strange thing...

Quote: "Even when you think you have thought things through, you might in fact be doing something really stoopid" That is a very true thing you said there, there is always that weird unexpected thing. I was quite surprised to find some needles of an insanely sensitive sodium salt of some diazoquinone when this thing was precipitated from azeotropic hydrochloric. :o When seeing those photo of your hand, I couldn't help thinking: "That could have been me"

Anyway, good luck with the recovery!

[Edited on 22-2-2019 by nitro-genes]
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[*] posted on 22-2-2019 at 15:01


I had a Wump experience with purple salt and aluminum powder. At first it just burned briskly so then I thought if I powdered it more it would burn faster. When I went to light a couple of teaspoons of it the pile made that familiar Wump sound. With still more effort I discovered it just goes bang when ignited and that was quite a surprise just unconfined and all.
Then one day after making several small batches with a face shield and gloves using mortar and pestle, a pile of a few tablespoons was initiated with a drop of glycerine. I should mention I ground the KMNO4 first and then incorporated the aluminum into the permanganate and using a small brush uncaked the fine mixture from the sides of the mortar. The single drop of glycerine quickly made a wisp of smoke and then nothing for what seemed like 30 seconds or so. Then came a sizeable bang.
Anyway on a later occasion a small amount being mixed and pressed together in my small mortar and pestle exploded shattering it into pieces. Luckily I wasn't injured, and this time without gloves or face shield. Not too smart looking back on it.
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