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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, as well as the unforeseen or negative effects of said legislation.
- 1 Chemicals
- 1.1 Acetyl chloride
- 1.2 Ammonium sulfamate
- 1.3 Barium salts
- 1.4 Benzaldehyde
- 1.5 Benzyl alcohol
- 1.6 Binary explosives
- 1.7 Chlorates/Perchlorates
- 1.8 Ethanol
- 1.9 Ethers
- 1.10 Hydrogen iodide/Hydroiodic acid
- 1.11 Hydrogen peroxide
- 1.12 Iodine
- 1.13 Methanol
- 1.14 Nitrates
- 1.15 Nitric acid
- 1.16 Oxalic acid
- 1.17 Pentaerythritol tetranitrate
- 1.18 Phosphides
- 1.19 Phosphorus
- 1.20 Phosphorus triiodide
- 1.21 Pinacolyl alcohol
- 1.22 Potassium permanganate
- 1.23 Prussian blue
- 1.24 Sulfuric acid
- 2 Chemistry equipment
- 3 Other
- 4 References
Although acetic anhydride is classified as List II Drug precursor in most of the world, and its sale is strictly regulated or restricted, it can be very easily made by distilling a mixture of anhydrous sodium acetate (easily prepared) and acetyl chloride. Unlike acetic anhydride, acetyl chloride is not generally classified as drug precursor, so there are fewer restrictions to it (may still be classified as hazardous chemical due to its ability to release harmful HCl vapors in presence of moisture). However, acetyl chloride itself can be used instead of acetic anhydride in the manufacturing of many illicit substances, with various success. Only in some countries, like Australia, Russian Federation, acetyl chloride is also classified as drug precursor, and it's not easy to acquire.
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) or online stores just a click away, nothing will stop anyone who knew that the compost accelerator can also be used as herbicide to, well, use it as herbicide.
Barium and his compounds, like most heavy metal compounds are often classified as hazardous, however, unlike other heavy metals, the restriction on its compounds varies significantly depending on the individual compound and differs from country to country. In UK, all barium salts, except for barium sulfate, barium carbonate and barium silicofluoride/hexafluorosilicate, are classified as poisons and restricted from sale to private individuals without a permit. However, since barium carbonate is not excepted from the restriction, it's possible to make all the other barium compounds from the carbonate, which defeats the entire purpose of the restriction! Likewise, since other insoluble and non-toxic barium compounds, like barium titanate, are not excepted, this means that said insoluble and non-toxic barium compound is actually considered to be toxic. Natural minerals of barium, like Gurimite (barium vanadate) would also be classified as poison by this regulation. Barium metal is also not included, but since it's a metal and not a salt, so its status remains unclear (unless another piece of legislature classifies it as hazardous/poisonous material), and while much more expensive than most barium compounds, it can also be used to make any barium compound.
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' 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. In most of EU countries, benzaldehyde is not classified as drug precursor, though it's sale may be monitored by drug agencies as unclassified drug precursor.
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 products containing more than 40% chlorate/perchlorate and an explosive permit for working with these 4 compounds must be obtained. However, there are no mentioned limits for how much <40% chlorate/perchlorate containing material one may purchase unless specified in said country's legislation, meaning one may buy a large amount of dilute product and concentrate the desired chlorate/perchlorate. Likewise, keeping perchlorate mixed with an inert solid and then concentrating it by extracting it with a selective solvent, like acetone in this case, in which perchlorate is very soluble, circumvents the need to keep the perchlorate at a low concentration in the first place.
The restriction also 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. In the Federal Republic of Germany, guanidinium perchlorate and guanidinium picrate were classified as explosive materials, and thus their use was restricted, and presumably, the same regulation was carried after the German reunification.
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, and while the amount of chlorate produced is usually below 40% of the solution's mass, there is no mention if the precipitated chlorate (like adding KCl to the decomposed bleach) which is very easy to separate from the reaction mass is considered part of the bottle or solution.
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 (even though lab-grade non-denatured alcohol is clearly labeled as unfit for consumption). Some countries, like Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania allow the production of small amounts of home distilled liquor up to a certain amount or sometimes said practices are ignored by the authorities if the deed is not worth pursuing legally due to low resources, willful ignorance, nepotism 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 near anhydrous isopropanol, which, unlike ethanol, is easily and cheaply available in high concentration at most hardware stores. Since it's very easy to synthesize, there's no need to store it and can be burned after use, thus eliminating the peroxide threat completely.
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, its possession and use are restricted. However, there is no mention of THF derivatives being included on the drug precursor list in Russia or other countries that regulate THF, meaning that unless specified in another list/annex, 2-methyltetrahydrofuran could be used instead, and is also suitable for Grignard reactions (though this derivative compound is a bit more expensive compared to regular THF and it's not miscible with water).
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, essentially as a quick DIY HI kit.
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. This also applies to other hydrogen peroxide adducts like urea peroxide (anhydrous form contains 34% H2O2 by weight, while the tetrahydrate 22% H2O2 by weight).
Likewise, the directive does not place a limit on the amount of <12% hydrogen peroxide one can acquire, meaning one can concentrate the 10-12% peroxide to a more concentrated solution (though naturally the resulting volume is smaller), meaning one can convert 3x1 L bottles of 10% H2O2 into 1 L H2O2 30% for example.
The directive does not restrict any precursor chemicals that could be used to prepare hydrogen peroxide (both diluted and concentrated), such as sodium perborate, metal peroxides (barium peroxide, zinc peroxide, etc.), sodium/potassium peroxodisulfate, etc.
Iodine is classified as List I precursor in US by the DEA, meaning its sale to private individuals is restricted. However, elemental iodine can be easily made from any iodide salt (which are not classified as drug precursors) by simply reacting the iodide with a mixture of sulfuric acid and hydrogen peroxide, or just with Oxone (while sulfuric acid is List II precursor and conc. hydrogen peroxide may be classified as explosive precursor, Oxone is not classified as any precursor in US or any other country and can be bought from most swimming pool stores).
Likewise, given that elemental iodine is not easy to store, keeping the iodide salt 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 possession of the element.
In most countries outside the US, iodine is not classified as drug precursor, though restrictions on its transport or storage may exist.
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 alcohol products used for cleaning are also almost pure methanol (with some dye added) and such products are sometimes sold in auto part shops or sometimes even hardware stores, depending on the country.
Some nitrates, like potassium nitrate and sodium nitrate are classified as monitored explosive precursors, since they can be used for the production of concentrated nitric acid, black powder or crude home-made bombs. Calcium nitrate, calcium ammonium nitrate and magnesium nitrate are also included in the same category (in the EU as per Regulation No 98/2013), while nitrates like ammonium nitrate and urea nitrate are classified as explosives. Since all these nitrates are or have been used in the past as fertilizers, they are more tightly monitored than other nitrates. However, many other nitrates may be used to either prepare nitric acid or the previously mentioned nitrates, albeit at a higher cost. Copper(II) nitrate, aluminium nitrate and zinc nitrates may be used to produce nitric acid and alkali nitrates via thermal decomposition and double replacement respectively.
Iron(III) nitrate has recently being considered as replacement for the potentially explosive ammonium nitrate, either pure iron nitrate or obtained by adding iron(II) sulfate to ammonium nitrate, and since it has a higher nitrogen and oxygen content per mole than other fertilizers, it appears an attractive solution. However, it's still possible to obtain alkali nitrates and ammonium nitrate from iron nitrate, by double replacement with an alkali hydroxide (NaOH, KOH and Ca(OH)2) and double salt replacement with ammonium oxalate, both easily available or easy to make without restrictions. Granted, the resulting nitrates are impure and wet, and thus require further purification.
While organic and other explosive nitrates, like urea nitrate and hydrazine nitrate are clearly classified as explosive materials, the status for other nitrates is less clear. Guanidinium nitrate, officially classified as rocket fuel and gas generator fuel, it's not always included in the explosive category, or at the very least is indirectly via the definition of what an explosive material is in the respective country/location.
In the EU, the sale of nitric acid in concentrations above 3% without a license/permit is forbidden, as per Regulation (EU) No 98/2013. The reason as to why this concentration was chosen is not given, and such diluted acid is unsuitable even for basic chemistry reactions, as one would need very large amounts of 3% nitric acid to obtain any useful amount of reaction product, and extracting the nitrate/nitrating product from such a large volume of water is very intensive and time consuming, even for small amounts, never mind the possibility of hydrolysis of product during the extraction process, which may contaminate the final product, requiring further purification, and thus a lower yield.
Given how low the 3% limit set by said regulation is, there is no mention of any exceptions or other legal effects for any accidental or side production of more concentrated acid solution. Hydrolysis of copper(II) nitrate, which can be easily done by simply heating a concentrated solution of said salt will produce lots of nitric acid, and for concentrated solutions, the 3% limit can be easily exceeded. This is also possible for other transition metal nitrates, and even for magnesium nitrate, which decomposes at relative low temperatures to release NO2 gas which can be used to produce nitric acid. Capturing nitrogen dioxide fumes in water (aka scrubbing a very toxic gas in a liquid), usually from various oxidation reactions or even decomposition or other nitrates/nitrites will produce a diluted nitric acid solution, which can very easily be concentrated above 3% by simply injecting more NO2 in water.
In UK, oxalic acid is classified as poison and any product containing >10% oxalic acid requires a poison license. However, the restriction doesn't apply to oxalate salts or natural sources of oxalates (like rhubarb), even though many soluble oxalates like ammonium oxalate and sodium oxalate are just as poisonous as oxalic acid. Also, since oxalate salts aren't banned, it's very easy to make oxalic acid from said salts, just by adding cold concentrated phosphoric or relative concentrated sulfuric acid to a supersaturated solution of oxalate, filter the precipitated phosphate/sulfate and recrystallize the oxalic acid from the filtrate.
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..
In most countries, the sale and use of phosphides are well regulated, since contact with water and/or acids will release the highly poisonous and potentially pyrophoric phosphine (and diphosphane) gas. However, the restriction doesn't appear to apply to all phoshpides the same. In some countries, like UK, aluminium and magnesium phosphides are clearly classified as poisons and a license is required to handle them. However, other phoshpides aren't included in the same list, nor does there is any mention of a blanket restriction on all phosphide compounds. Other countries have similar restrictions, though the exact ban on phosphides may be indirect, as in "compounds that may generate poisonous gases in contact with water, acids or bases", which can also refer to other non-phosphide compounds.
Except for the US, EU (above 100 g) and a few Asian countries, the sale of red phosphorus is usually not restricted (though regulations on its transport or storage may exist given its flammability hazard). White phosphorus on the other hand is almost always strongly regulated, restricted or outright banned in most countries due to its pyrophoricity/fire hazard and toxicity. White phosphorus however can be easily made from the red variety by simply heating it in a tube, in an oxygen-less atmosphere, meaning that potentially one can store the white form as the red form without any fire risk normally associated with the former.
Also, if one were to produce elemental phosphorus from phosphates by reducing them with carbon or metal powders (Al, Mg, etc.) in the presence of silicon dioxide/sand in a kiln, the crude product obtained is white phosphorus, meaning that it's much easier to obtain the more dangerous form of phosphorus than the safer one. This also has the bonus of skipping any obstacles in acquiring the white form, not to mention neither of the mentioned precursors are restricted (though in case of aluminium and magnesium powders some regulations may exist).
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.
Despite displaying low toxicity, pinacolyl alcohol is included in the List of Schedule 2 substances of the Chemical Weapons Convention, since it's a binary precursor for the nerve agent Soman. Even though the way this class of nerve agents are produced is by simply mixing methylphosphonyl difluoride with an alcohol, pinacolyl alcohol is the only acyclic alcohol included in this category and no other alcohol involved in the production of nerve agents is included (like isopropanol, which is used to make sarin). This is possible because pinacolyl alcohol, unlike isopropanol, has very little uses in chemistry and industry, so basically it "drew the short straw".
In many Western countries, this compound is not always a restricted substance (in US it's DEA List II chemical), but in some former Soviet block countries and the Russian Federation it is included in the lists of drug precursors in because it is sometimes used to make methcathinone. In Russia, it can be sold freely as a low grade chemical, with the concentration of potassium permanganate below 50% (the rest being either inert or potassium ferrate). Higher grade potassium permanganate is regulated. Obtaining pure potassium permanganate from the impure grade can be easily done via recrystallization from water, though this requires one to purchase relative significant amounts of impure potassium permanganate, which may draw attention.
The restriction/drug precursor classification applies only to potassium permanganate and sometimes to the rarer and more expensive sodium permanganate, and doesn't cover other permanganates, like barium permanganate, calcium permanganate, lithium permanganate, etc., which can be easily used to prepare potassium permanganate. Unless of course, the legal text clearly specifies other permanganates (e.g. salts of the permanganate acid).
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 many places where cyanides are regulated or restricted, there is a mention in the text of the law that ferrocyanides are exempted from the restrictions. However, this doesn't stop overzealous or incompetent authorities from mistaking ferrocyanides with cyanide salts, especially if said persons enforcing the law are poorly trained or corrupt.
In many countries, concentrated sulfuric acid is a controlled substance or otherwise unavailable, and sulfuric acid based drain openers are unavailable as well. Dilute (~30%) sulfuric acid, on the other hand, is often available over the counter as (car) battery acid. Therefore, concentrating this acid in home conditions is required. This resulted in the practice of boiling the Bat.
In some countries where concentrated sulfuric acid is either monitored or restricted, there doesn't appear to be any regulation over the drain cleaner type, even though there are conc. H2SO4 drain cleaners that can be >95% and have no additives or dye added. Such products can be used as lab-grade conc. sulfuric acid, while the concentrated form, but with dye added, can be cleaned very easily by just heating the acid to almost near the boiling point of the acid, which causes all organic material to break down. Any regulations seem to cover mostly lab-grade sulfuric acid, with drain-cleaner types being less monitored.
Concentrated sulfuric acid is often restricted since it can be used to prepare concentrated nitric acid from a nitrate salt, or anhydrous/concentrated HCl gas or conc. hydrochloric acid (drug precursor). However, sodium bisulfate, cheaply available as pH lowering swimming pool chemical can replace conc. H2SO4 in these cases, though in case of conc. HNO3, the resulting acid is not as concentrated as it could be. Phosphorus pentoxide, which is not classified as precursor nor usually restricted (though a bit harder to find and somewhat expensive), can be used as a strong(er) desiccant instead of conc. H2SO4 and can even be used to prepare a more concentrated acid. Likewise, one can obtain sulfur trioxide from thermal decomposition of sodium bisulfate (cheaper) or by dehydrating conc. sulfuric acid with P2O5 (albeit wasteful and expensive).
Erlenmeyer flask (CORRECTED)
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.
As of late 2019, there is no more need for a permit and it appears that restrictions on glassware have been loosened.
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.
1986 California Proposition 65
Proposition 65 (formally titled The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986) is a California law passed by direct voter initiative in 1986 by a 63%–37% vote. Its goals are to protect drinking water sources from toxic substances that cause cancer and birth defects and to reduce or eliminate exposures to those chemicals generally, such as consumer products, by requiring warnings in advance of those exposures. The warning label uses the following phrase or a slight variation of it:
- WARNING: This product contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm.
The legislation includes a list of various chemicals that are considered to be suspicious of causing cancer, and thus any product containing them contains a label with a warning.
The law has been criticized for causing "over-warning" or "meaningless warnings", and this risk has even been recognized by a California court. There is no penalty for posting an unnecessary warning sign and to the extent that warnings are vague or overused, they may not communicate much information to the end user. As such, a recurring joke that everything in California causes cancer was born, which makes fun of the nanny-state-like regulation.
While the list of suspected chemicals does include substances that are actually harmful and confirmed to cause cancer (acrylamide, aflatoxins, asbestos, nitrosamines, etc.), many many chemicals included on the list aren't even suspected of causing cancer (aloe vera extract), usually either due to containing minute traces of a compound that is suspected or shown to cause cancer in lab rats at high or very high doses (like the aloin from aloe vera) or just suspected from non-reproducible tests. Some poisonous chemicals that don't leave long-lasting injuries if treated immediately (hydrogen cyanide, carbon monoxide, etc.) are also included, even though the evidence to suggest they may cause cancer is not clear (nitrous oxide, sulfur dioxide, e.g.) or has not been reproduced independently. Many chemicals included on the list have not been confirmed to cause cancer in labs or have been used in treating some forms of cancer, either in research or medically (dichloroacetic acid, Fluorouracil, lithium carbonate/citrate). Some of the mentions on the list include odd descriptions, like in the case of ethylene glycol "when ingested", without a clear indication why only ingestion is considered to cause cancer risk and not inhalation or skin permeation, or formaldehyde as "gas", with no mention of the more common available form (solution, formalin), for vanadium pentoxide "only orthorhombic" with no other vanadium compounds enumerated. Hormones are also included on the list with a special mention ("synthetic"), but this does not apply to all (see testosterone). Wood dust is also included in the list. Many chemicals on the list were eventually removed, even though allyl chloride, is classified as Group C, a possible human carcinogen by the EPA, while Chloramphenicol is known to affect the bone marrow and increase the risk of leukemia. Some chemicals are also being ping-ponged, like Bisphenol A (BPA), which was removed from the list on April 19, 2013, and was relisted on May 11, 2015. 
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. It's unclear what happens if the resulting food-grade distilled ethanol ends up unfit for consumption due to an accident during the distillation or intentional denaturation after, as when that happens, the ethanol can only be used as as solvent or as fuel. However, since the distillation permit only covers the distillation activity for which the permit was released after filing the necessary paperwork and passing whatever inspection or certification is required, failed distillations should be classified as business loss and not penalized.
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. As such, the following alternative distillation equipment are classified as:
- Chemistry distillation glassware parts, either acquired as separate pieces (boiling flask, condenser, etc.) or as full distillation kit are legal to acquire, posses and use without restrictions, though you may not legally distill food-grade ethanol.
- 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.
Not that anyone will ask...
- 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. Also, there is no mention of any legal restrictions if said "distillation" still is left outside in the strong sunlight, which due to heat from the sun will cause the alcohol to condense inside and collect in the flask. Any restrictions on this route would involve the legal text to mention "any heating source" or "distillation time" (if there is one) in some way, to eliminate any ambiguities.
Many countries will classify various chemicals that are proven to cause harm as "hazardous" and may even be restricted if they're deemed too harmful. However, the exact term "hazardous" is itself poorly defined, and varies from country to country. While some definitions include phrases like "proven to cause immediate harm" or "recognized to be dangerous to health and environment", many definitions will rely on various lists of reagents deemed hazardous, like the EU's REACH list or chemicals. This however, leads to the problem of following the law too literal and only considering the substances that are included on the list as being hazardous, and often tends to ignore substances that are very similar, yet similar or even more harmful than the listed substance. Occasionally it might lead to cases of ignoring obscure harmful substances from being identified since they didn't raise certain red flags at a glance.
Expired reagents, even those that are non-toxic substances, are often lumped together as hazardous chemicals, mainly since lab wastes are all treated as hazardous, even when their only "crime" is that they passed their expiration date. Depending on the country, this may also apply to reagents that are also available as OTC products and don't need special disposal and standard solutions of said reagents. This will sometimes lead to tragicomical situations where chemical disposal teams are called in with full protection gear, police arriving at the site and area evacuated just to remove some expired sodium chloride, copper sulfate, glutamic acid, etc. or some bottle of a diluted solution with "scary symbols" which turns out to be just some old standard solution. Sometimes even the bomb squad are called in. The end result of this is lots of taxpayer money being wasted and pointless scare. Sometimes, not even an expert is called in to verify if there are actual hazardous or highly poisonous substances at the location, or sometimes just an "expert" is called who doesn't seem to put much effort into verifying the content of the location. More often than not, such behavior arises from the legislation regarding chemicals, which is not always very clear and the people who enforce it receive very little training if any.
Most reagents have noted an expiration date on their label, which is often encountered on many organic reagents, and even on inorganic ones. This is because many chemical compounds will undergo chemical changes over time, either on their own, or after prolonged air/sunlight exposure, or may absorb moisture or carbon dioxide from air. The role of the expiration date is to provide a reasonable time period in which the reagent can be used safely without causing anomalies during the chemical reaction or even spoiling the reaction altogether. However, many reagents that normally do not suffer any changes in most storage conditions (like most common salts: NaCl, K2SO4, EDTA, etc.) also come with an expiration date, even though they should remain practically unchanged from when they were added in the bottle in the supplier's warehouse. While it's possible for some reagents to absorb water from air and thus become damp over time, this is more likely to happen if the reagent is not kept in proper storage conditions (after all, one can keep said reagent bottle in a desiccator far longer than its expiration date and it won't absorb any moisture and thus remain unchanged, while keeping it a few weeks in a very damp place is sufficient to turn the reagent into a mushy paste or a solid block). Once a reagent has passed its expiration date, it can no longer be used in professional labs, even though it didn't suffer any changes or wasn't contaminated, and even if it wasn't open since it was purchased. This is very much true for analytical reagents, which can no longer be used in chemical analysis once they've reached the expiration date and have to be disposed of, even if they weren't open or have shown any signs of degradation/contamination. This leads to a hoarding problem, since the expired reagents, even though they're still technically good, can no longer be used (at least for that purpose), so if you used, for example, small amounts of reagent from a 1 kg bottle, and after the expiration date you still have >900 g of unused reagent, you end up discarding much more than you used, which translates in lost money and resources.
For reagents used in synthesis, this can be avoided, by simply recrystallizing the salt from a concentrated solution, or for liquids a simple distillation is sufficient to generate a "fresh" reagent, since the resulting product is no longer the old one, and it's usually more pure. However, while this method is widely used by "poorer" labs, in some circles it's looked down upon, since there are concerns about contamination during the preparation of new product. Likewise, most reagent labels show the value of traces present in the product, which, in the event of a recrystallization or distillation, will change. While this isn't a problem for reagents used in synthesis, this practice is not allowed for reagents used in analysis, since, while one would have to reanalyze the traces present in the new product, an official certification is required for the newly produced analytical reagent to be valid.
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 dumping chemical compounds whose OTC equivalent can be poured down the drain (only a few cases of certain academics being prosecuted for dumping expired lab-grade solvents down the drain have been known), so there is no clear answer (so far) what is legal to pour down the drain and what is not, especially since the legal interpretations of waste disposal differ from country to country.
While pouring volatile chemicals down the drain is not legally allowed, there are few regulations regarding allowing evaporation of said reagents in open air. While air quality monitoring is present in many cities and administrations, it's only when the concentration of a certain chemical species increases above a certain limit that there will be legal problems. As such, one may allow a small amount of volatile liquid on a tray on the roof during the day to allow maximum evaporation. The vapors will rise in the air and eventually break down under the influence of UV light and oxygen to less harmful or harmless products. Granted this method is not a great idea for disposing of foul-smelling chemicals, especially for those that can be sensed at very low concentrations.
Most countries forbid throwing expired medication down the drain or even in trash, though unless said medication becomes toxic after expiring, there are other ways of disposing of said medication without directly breaking the law. However, this is not necessary, as pharmacies around the world will collect expired medication for free, which then get sent to proper hazardous waste disposal facilities.
- Sprengstoffgesetz, annex I, part 1, no. 33, 34 and part 2,no. 2.5, mixtures 4,5