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Author: Subject: Enviormentalist nightmare? Chemist Dream Land? The Superfund Sites
BromicAcid
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[*] posted on 9-2-2004 at 15:42
Enviormentalist nightmare? Chemist Dream Land? The Superfund Sites


Overall this may sound a little weird, but many will agree with me. First let's start off with a little background.

What's a superfund site?

According to the EPA, superfund sites...
Quote:

are uncontrolled or abandoned places where hazardous waste is located, possibly affecting local ecosystems or people.

Anyway, there are over a thousand of these sites across the US, check the above link and you can search through them, and the government is trying to clean some of them up. Many of them are chemical wastelands, home to strange formations and lakes of acid. One article though specifically caught my attention, found here describing the surreal conditions of a superfund site called "Tar Creek"

Now, call me odd but I want to go there. And after reading up on some of these other sites, some of them rated considerably worse, I'm ready to pack up for a road trip!:D I mean, who wouldn't want to go to a place where rivers of acid flow and the ground catches on fire from friction, where the acrid sting of sulfurous vapors pierces your sense of smell and bottomless pits of unknown composition abound.

Sound's like a blast to me. Could you imagine having a science madness get together at one of these places? What are some other peoples thought's on these environmental catastrophes?

[Edited on 2/9/2004 by BromicAcid]




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chemoleo
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[*] posted on 9-2-2004 at 16:06


How about we all organise a trip to Tschernobyl? That will be fun! Radiation-induced chemical reactions, witnessed on one's own bodies! ;)

Besides, old mines are great places to get great minerals!

[Edited on 10-2-2004 by chemoleo]




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[*] posted on 9-2-2004 at 16:22


It's interesting how practically everything east of the mississippi is plastered in them. Just look at the map. California has it's share as well. I come to find out there is actually a superfund site about a 5 minute drive away. It's only a land fill though. Nothing too fun:D.

I wish the rivers flowed of acid here. How convienent it would be to just walk down to the local pond with a respirator and a 55 gallon pail to resupply myself with sulfuric acid, or better yet nitric.
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chemoleo
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[*] posted on 9-2-2004 at 16:33


Oh I forgot to mention:
Go to volcanic springs! You will find VAST amounts of H2SO3 and H2SO4. In fact, when we were in New Zealand, I scraped together a pound worth of sulphur crystals, which I brought back to Europe! In fact we set fire to one of them (just a little one, as a proof of principle), and it works very nicely, creating flowing rivulets of molten sulphur! Dont worry we stopped the fire shortly after though.
Anyway, I also got a little bottle of acid lakes deposits, which apparently contain all sorts of metals, such as vanadium, arsenate (which is not really a metal i know), and selenium... there were a few more in it, but I haven't got the content list here.




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[*] posted on 9-2-2004 at 19:38


Quote:
Originally posted by Mumbles
It's interesting how practically everything east of the mississippi is plastered in them. Just look at the map.


Not really a co-incidence, The east was populated a hell of a long time before the west. Early industrialization is particularly dirty, the majority of trade for the first couple centuries went to Europe so the major industrial features continued to be based there for a long time after.

also, the majority of the midwest is rural. Cows don't complain about chemical waste dumps. Farmers are more likely to mind their own business too (cuz you can't work a farm thats "poisoned", and you can't sell it either)




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BromicAcid
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[*] posted on 9-2-2004 at 19:56


After looking closely at the map I've found that there are quite a few superfund sites in my area with a hazard rating of over 50, this summer I plan to visit one, should make for a fun at home qualitative analysis lab. :D Just pick up some dirt and take some pictures, now that sounds like fun.

On the volcanism subject, before that movie Dante's Peak came out I saw a special on a volcano that had a lake, a huge lake that had fuming, viscous sulfuric acid filling it! Like 99% + oleum kind! I bet the best you could get from a hazardous waste site would be some spent acid. But even that would be like a natural resource to chemists.

It seems like those places were made for chemists though. I know I wouldn't live long if I lived adjacent to a big one because I would constantly go, "Ahh.. the hazards of lead are overrated." Then later in the day, "I'm pretty sure that puddle I fell in was just dilute sulfuric acid, I didn't smell any dioxin, no big deal."

Two years later on my death bed, "It's all those irradiated apples I ate... I know it, chemicals would never betray me...." Looking out the window at the miasma of colors reflected off the lake of acid I would reach out shakingly uttering my last words... "my precious superfund site, who will protect you when I'm gone...."




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[*] posted on 9-2-2004 at 20:22


Quote:
Originally posted by BromicAcid
What are some other peoples thought's on these environmental catastrophes?
[Edited on 2/9/2004 by BromicAcid]

I think they're tragic, and not at all fun. Chemicals belong in the lab, not killing forests and poisoning creeks. You're not going to see a exciting collection of intriguing chemical reactions. You're just going to see a sad mess, and a total failure of foresight and responsibility.
If we deplore the publics prejudice and distrust of chemicals, look no farther for the reason why...
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[*] posted on 9-2-2004 at 20:43
burning river


I believe that the Cuyahoga River near Cleveland, Ohio actually did catch on fire back in the '60s. I'm sure it is much cleaner now due to environmental law.

These sites are pathetic and are a great burden on the taxpayer. They do provide a lot of employment for chemists/engineers, however.
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[*] posted on 9-2-2004 at 21:08


Quote:

I believe that the Cuyahoga River near Cleveland, Ohio actually did catch on fire back in the '60s.

Also, in upstate michigan we have torch lake, which got the name because it caught on fire and burned for almost a week, so the stories go...
Quote:

They do provide a lot of employment for chemists/engineers, however.

A great example of a positive externality created by these situations. Also, they help to train people to deal with and develop new techniqes for waste management that might become in handy if there was ever a catastrophic waste disaster in a suburban area.

Yes, some of these places are terrible disasters but I cannot help my train of thought.

A person likes chocolate ---> They dream of rivers of chocolate and chocolate everywhere

A person likes pornography ---> They dream of... well... let's just say pornography everywhere

A person likes chemicals ---> They dream of chemicals everywhere

Accept my assumptions and you will find my line of thought more persuasive, yes, accept them. At one time was there not a chemical you really wanted and could have imagined a river of.... the mytical river of oleum exists right beyond the next horizon.

[Edited on 2/10/2004 by BromicAcid]




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[*] posted on 9-2-2004 at 21:13


I live near Hanford in Washington, site of the greatest radioactive mess in the US. Not far away in Oregon is the Umatilla Army Depot, now home to tons of decommissioned chemical weapons awaiting destruction by incineration.

What do both of these sites have in common? For 40 years, contractors made excellent money off the Cold War and US government (taxpayers) producing nuclear and chemical weapons. For the next 40 years they'll make excellent money cleaning up the mess left from the production/stockpiling of these weapons!

It seems half the graduate students I know work either at the national lab here or for one of the government contractors in the area. The pay is good, the benefits are good, and you can be sure the long-term employment prospects are good! These messes aren't going away any time soon. Hanford remediation is a billion dollar a year industry, and all but invisible to the public. There are single buildings so contaminated that special technologies are being developed solely for their cleanup. It makes my head spin.




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[*] posted on 9-2-2004 at 21:16


Quote:
Originally posted by guaguanco
I think they're tragic, and not at all fun. Chemicals belong in the lab, not killing forests and poisoning creeks. You're not going to see a exciting collection of intriguing chemical reactions. You're just going to see a sad mess, and a total failure of foresight and responsibility.
If we deplore the publics prejudice and distrust of chemicals, look no farther for the reason why...


That's a very responsible and adult point of view and you should be proud of yourself.

However, I too, understand, and have felt the allure of these places. Abandoned factories and industrial sites just seem to hold some strange fascination.

I am reminded of a documentary I saw on the scientists studying Chernobyl. The guys who were actually mapping the inside of the factory. I think it was on 60 Minutes or 20/20 about ten years ago.

Anyway it showed these guys who decided just how much rad exposure they would tolerate when they first started the study.

Then they started passing their self-imposed levels so they'd set new ones. and so on and so on......until finally they just one day decided, en masse, to take off their rad counting badges.

Most of them eventually died, but it was strange and yet understandable how they just couldn't tear themselves away from the project. They just kept going back in to the belly of the beast and taking pictures and readings and whatnot.

There were these rivers of radiation that would give you a fatal dose in only a few hours if you were to stay in them, that they would have to jump through. Some very far from the actual core.

And I remember there was this null area, an almost radiation free room that was less than twenty inches(of unarmored concrete) from the melted core. All except for a single super hot corner of the room.

Those intrepid scientists are really responsible for a lot of knowledge. We now know that radiation at the macro scale often doesn't act at all like the micro scale models predict.

Most of those men are probably dead now. But ever since I saw those flickering images on my T.V. screen I have fervently wished I could visit the scene, Travel through those same corridors. Those images I saw on that night are burned into my memory forever.

Crazy.....maybe. But it calls to me.

I think I have a little bit of an understanding as to why the first scientists felt compelled to reach out and touch the burning branch from the lightning struck tree.

While the rest of the tribe used their commonsense and fled.

I wonder at the courage it must have taken to try to pick it up a second time, after it already had singed his fingers. :)




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[*] posted on 9-2-2004 at 23:52


Sure, I understand that they're compelling, in the same way a airline crash or a building collapse is compelling. That's just human nature.
I simply disagreed with the 'gee, what jolly good fun these superfund sites are' character of the original post. There's nothing remotely romantic (to my mind) about rivers with a pH of 2. But to each their own.
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[*] posted on 10-2-2004 at 21:16
a new Superfund site (Hg)


Bromic Acid: I see your point - as a fantasy a river of thionyl chloride is funny to contemplate - much like "cyclohexane for lunch." But a real Superfund site is just buildings, land, a body of water, etc, that to outward appearances looks normal. But it is not - it's deadly.

I read today about a house in Idaho that was recently contaminated by a spill of about 8 ounces of mercury from an antique barometer. The mercury was tracked all over the house by the 3 inhabitants - into the carpet, furniture, etc. All 3 have had illnesses due to this, especially the teenage girl who has had serious pain. Her blood level is 200 (ppb, I assume). Levels for the parents were 168 and 90, respectively. Normal is 10. They have had anxiousness and mild depression. The EPA has come in anti-contamination suits and respirators and taken nearly everthing out of the house. It has been declared a Superfund site.
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[*] posted on 10-2-2004 at 21:24


Actually the measurement is micrograms per cubic meter. I don't know about 10 being the normal level. I think it's the maximum allowable level. I've had some recent learning on the subject.

[Edit] I didn't see the blod level at first. I guess there is a normal level of mercury and such in that. When I saw the 10 I just assumed it was clothing. Thats the highest level to save from incineration. If it's in the blood stream it probably is ppb then. My values were for clothing and object.

[Edited on 2-11-2004 by Mumbles]
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[*] posted on 11-2-2004 at 05:03
none


posible use microbs or alga to clean up?
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[*] posted on 11-2-2004 at 14:25


I am quite sure there are no microbes or any organisms that would clean up the mercury. There is not any life system that would benefit from it all, and there would still be waste from the things, containing mercury traces no doubt.



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[*] posted on 11-2-2004 at 18:12


I wouldn't be completely sure that there's no life form that benefits from mercury. If we look from an evolutionary perspective, we have evolved to use the more common metals (Na, K, Ca etc) for various metabolic purposes. Other metals are toxic to most organisms because they mimic, but do not behave exactly like, the metals the organism has been calibrated to depend upon by millions of years of evolution. However, if millions of years ago the earth had been filled to the brim with lead and mercury, it would be likely that we would rely on these metals for our biochemical processes. We have created regions of high concentrations of metals such as mercury only very recently, so organisms with any decent generation length will not have evolved any measurable tolerance. Bacteria, on the other hand, have a generation time of around 20 minutes, and as a result evolve so rapidly that we actually notice this evolution (such as the way bacteria become resistant to antibiotics). So it's not inconceivable that somewhere there's a bunch of sophisticated, mutant mercury eating bacteria. That said, though they probably wouldn't be that good at getting rid of it, as mercury is an element and can't be broken down (unless these advanced bacteria can generate energy by nuclear fission!).
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[*] posted on 11-2-2004 at 18:35


Huh?
Mercury, in nature, mainly exists as mercury sulphide, HgS. This is insoluble, and not as toxic. There was no need to evolve organisms that have to tolerate mercury - although one can't be sure, as you say.
An organism that is resistant to mercury would either have to convert existing mercury salts to a relatively non-toxic form (such as HgS), or it would rely on its protein/enzymes to be devoid of cysteines, or methionines - both sulphur containing amino acids. I'd doubt that an organism could do without those two amino acids, as a lot of metal-chelating proteins/enzymes rely on the complexing abilities of histidine, cysteine and methionine.
Hence - a 'mercury eating' bacterium would at most convert it into some insoluble, relatively non-toxic form such as HgS.
Altogether Pyrovus I think you are correct - in that it is not inconceivable that there are bacteria that have evolved to live and to proliferate in a mercury -salt rich environment. I think it's unlikely though - as mercury affects so many processes at once (= proteins) the organism is killed, with no survivors (this being the end to evolution). Conversely, antibiotics affect mostly only one or two processes within cells, so if several trillion cells are present, it is possible that a few will survive that happen to have both resistances.... which are just the cells (bacteria) we will have to fight lateron with additional antibiotics.
Thus it is often advised to use several antibiotics at once, to avoid selecting specifically for resistant ones.
Sorry for the rant ... let's go back on topic :)




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[*] posted on 16-2-2004 at 09:22


Bromic, you want someplace to visit:
A chemically active place
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[*] posted on 17-2-2004 at 20:12


Venus is closer, I prefer my sulfuric hot and active anyway.... What is it there, like 350 C and the atmosphere is almost entirely carbon dioxide, not to mention minor constituents of hydrogen chloride, hydrogen fluoride, sulfur dioxde and all kinds of crazy fun stuff.
Quote:

I read today about a house in Idaho that was recently contaminated by a spill of about 8 ounces of mercury from an antique barometer. The mercury was tracked all over the house by the 3 inhabitants - into the carpet, furniture, etc.

You think that's bad, a mercury switch in a theromostat broke in someone's basement. Less then 1/2 oz of mercury spilled. The person working on it left and possibly tracked some with them. Person living there saw the mercury and called for help. Immediate disaster area, immediately costing $200,000 to mobilize a crack team to come out and more once they realized that the person working on the house had tracked some, in all I believe 25 houses were evacuated. Behold, the Glenside Mercury Spill, you can read the PDF of it from the EPA Superfund website. Even if I were somewhat irrational I believe they over-reacted.

[Edited on 2/18/2004 by BromicAcid]




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[*] posted on 19-2-2004 at 11:51


in sweden we have a lake used as a recepient from a nitro plant from late 19th century until environmental laws prohibited the dumping of waste uncleaned. (just neutralized with lime or something similar)

when samples where taken and analysed , there was enough nitro compounds in the lake
bottom sediment to render it hazardous, and not in a toxic way! so they just leave it be, letting time and bacterias do their job ,albeit slowly.



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