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Author: Subject: Chemical Availability Changes from 15 years ago (US)
hodges
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[*] posted on 23-8-2019 at 15:36
Chemical Availability Changes from 15 years ago (US)


I was active in amateur chemistry about 15 years ago. I remember the difficulty in buying certain chemicals. Recently I decided to check how things have changed since then.

I remember it was nearly impossible to purchase either iodine or phosphorous (including red) in the US 15 years ago. Almost certainly due to the meth cooking epidemic at that time. In fact, I think it was even illegal to own those elements then. Well apparently that has changed. I now see both iodine and red phosphorous for sale, to US, on eBay. I haven't kept up with the reasons behind the changes, but I'm guessing (based on the way things were going back then) that additions to cold tablets that made meth precursors increasingly difficult to extract, as well as requiring ID to buy them, ended the epidemic and the associated chemical hysteria.

I also see things that used to be fairly readily available but are no longer as easy to get. I remember eBay used to sell sodium metal; I no longer see it for sale there. Calcium is still available for purchase, albeit at much higher prices than back then. It also looks like chlorates are no longer easily available (although I don't recall if I bought these on eBay or perhaps elsewhere). I also don't see hydrogen peroxide in higher concentrations (such as 30%) readily for sale anymore. Silver nitrate is still available (at its usual high prices). Calcium carbide is still available as well.

I do see more online stores offering "chemistry set" chemicals (such as sodium bisulfate, potassium ferrocyanide, ferric ammonium sulfate, cobalt chloride, and the like) for sale. These are targeting the "home schooling" crowd. United Nuclear is still around with what appears to be the same chemicals as were available in the past.

At the hardware store, I still see muriatic acid, as well as Rooto drain cleaner (the famous source of concentrated sulfuric acid). Almost all the drain cleaners sold in the grocery store now are liquid, which, besides from not being a ready source of sodium hydroxide are also not nearly as good at unclogging drains. However, hardware stores still stock plain "lye" (which I keep on hand for its intended use of unclogging drains). I still see "unscented ammonia" in the grocery stores, and "janitorial strength" ammonia (ammonium hydroxide) is available in hardware stores. Nearly pure sodium bromide is still available for hot tub use, and I see pretty much the same assortment of chlorine pool chemicals as before.

I know 15 years ago there was the fear that no chemicals would be available for experimenters anymore. I don't think that has happened. Actually, it seems like things got far worse in the previous 15 years than in the past 15 years. Seems to me overall availability is pretty much the same today as it was then.



[Edited on 8/23/19 by hodges]
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[*] posted on 23-8-2019 at 20:04


I believe that in the last few years chemical availability has drastically improved for both organic and inorganic reagents. There are a number of reputable sellers on ebay and Amazon as well as independent websites that sell a wide variety of research chemicals to individuals. The drawback for the chemistry hobbyist with limited resources is the relatively high cost coupled with large quantity minimum sizes. For example, who really needs 500g of chloroacetic acid in a home lab? Some sellers offer smaller quantities of reagents but shipping costs can still make the chemical unaffordable. Overall, there are many resourceful folks on this site who have uncovered interesting chemicals in places like brewer's supplies, hydroponics, health supplement store, biodiesel supplies and so forth. So the picture is not really bleak, one just has to look a bit harder.

I do agree that the OTC/consumer chemical picture has worsened for what was once common household chemicals in relatively pure form. The uneducated chemophobia of much of the public will only continue to make the situation worse. But dedicated chemists are resourceful so I am confident the hobby will live on.

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[*] posted on 27-8-2019 at 04:31


I have the impression that things are similar where I live (NL, in the EU).

Locally, it has become much more difficult to find interesting chemicals. E.g. finding concentrated H2SO4 is impossible, hydrochloric acid only is available at 10% concentration, and bleach and ammonia are available at 4 or 5% at most. Online, however, I can obtain chemicals which I could not even dream of 30 years ago, in the pre-internet era. I now can legally buy concentrated acids of all kinds in online shops, rare earth metal salts, all kinds of organic solvents and even stuff like 60% HClO4 or SO2Cl2 or SO2(OH)Cl.

So, I think for a somewhat older chemistry enthusiast with a fair budget things at the moment certainly are not worse than 30 years ago. Some chemicals (explosives precursors like KClO3, KClO4, HNO3 and conc. H2O2) are not available anymore, but they can be made in small quantities of tens of grams without too much trouble from other legally available chemicals.

The situation, however, is harsh for the beginning young enthusiasts, who want to do interesting experiments. In 1985 I went to a local shop to buy KNO3, S, and C for making coarse black powder, I even purchased KClO3 for some more spectacular demos. All of these I could buy for a little pocket money at a drugstore in small quantities (e.g. 100 grams of KClO3 or 250 grams of KNO3). Also the most common acids I could buy without any problem (250 ml 96% H2SO4, 1 liter of 30% HCl, 1 liter of 60% HNO3). The young starter boy or girl nowadays cannot obtain anything interesting locally and this may lead to quitting the hobby before it even really starts. A 14 year old boy does not have a credit card for buying at an online shop in another part of the world.




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[*] posted on 27-8-2019 at 05:50


Quote: Originally posted by woelen  
The young starter boy or girl nowadays cannot obtain anything interesting locally and this may lead to quitting the hobby before it even really starts.


The simple solution could be chemistry sets containing everything in one box. If they are not available on eBay that means only one: there is no demand. And I think the popularity of the hobby is not always related to the ability to buy chemicals. I follow boards dedicated to amateur astronomy and they talk about the same: absence of interest to amateur astronomy from young people. And today you can buy much-much better optical equipment, so I think it is not related.

There is also transformation of what new starters prefer to do in chemistry. Usually it is repeating of something they saw on YouTube. Not bad, but quite different from our early experience of discovering of things.



[Edited on 27-8-2019 by teodor]
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[*] posted on 27-8-2019 at 10:30


That's why I backed the Heirloom Chemistry Set on Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1742632993/heirloom-che...
It's a really great set that includes everything you need for a huge variety of experiments, and hearkens back to ye olde days of useful chemistry kits. The downside, of course, is that it would be very expensive for the young experimenter.

I might be biased, but I think YouTube is a great way to get new people interested in science these days. It's such a popular site for every topic imaginable, and there are a lot of really great science channels. I hope that such interesting videos spark people's imaginations and make them want to learn more and try things themselves. YouTube is a great start, but nothing compares to actually doing experiments yourself.
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[*] posted on 28-8-2019 at 15:08


Quote: Originally posted by woelen  

The situation, however, is harsh for the beginning young enthusiasts, who want to do interesting experiments. In 1985 I went to a local shop to buy KNO3, S, and C for making coarse black powder, I even purchased KClO3 for some more spectacular demos. All of these I could buy for a little pocket money at a drugstore in small quantities (e.g. 100 grams of KClO3 or 250 grams of KNO3). Also the most common acids I could buy without any problem (250 ml 96% H2SO4, 1 liter of 30% HCl, 1 liter of 60% HNO3). The young starter boy or girl nowadays cannot obtain anything interesting locally and this may lead to quitting the hobby before it even really starts. A 14 year old boy does not have a credit card for buying at an online shop in another part of the world.


But I would hope a 14 year old would be able to have his parents help order it.

When I was 14, I wanted saltpeter. At that time, it could still be purchased in some mom-and-pop drugstores. I remember calling all over town until I found one that had it. Then I asked my father, and one Saturday he drove me there. Fortunately for me, my father supported my science interests. I'm sure if it was now, he would also have been willing to place an order for me online (if I gave him the money).

If a 14 year old has a parent that does not support his chemistry hobby, it's going to be a bad situation in general. Not saying it doesn't happen - but what is the young person to do? If he is able to purchase chemicals, he has to hide them from his parents? Seems like storage would be a bigger problem than purchasing.

I think back in the day, when kids could walk into the drugstore and buy chemicals, the pharmacist would likely ensure that the kid was responsible enough before selling it. With small-town drugstores, its pretty likely that they might even know the parent. I'm guessing someone likely to hurt themselves or others with chemicals would not be sold them, at least not without checking with parents.

So I really don't know that having to order things online should be that big of a deal in general. Today, if you order chemicals from United Nuclear (US), most require an adult signature. For the same reason I think. Someone has to be sure the child is responsible enough to have the chemicals.

There are still decent chemistry sets made. But you probably won't find them except online.

https://www.amazon.com/Thames-Kosmos-CHEM-C2000-2-0/dp/B004U...


https://www.amazon.com/Chem-C3000-2011-Advanced-Chemistry/dp...

The first one is pretty similar to one I had when I was a kid and I think cost around $25. Price now is probably pretty similar, accounting for inflation. Second one is far better than that.

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[*] posted on 29-8-2019 at 03:02


It's good to know that good chemistry sets are still produced.

But if we talk about chemistry as a hobby, both for children and adults, do you know are there some public laboratories exist? Some places when you can do experiments with supervision, using fume hoods and studying safe practices? Where people can bring their chemicals, exchange, share ideas with other, legally buy chemicals from big suppliers (having the address not in a residential area) etc. etc. This could also solve problems with some parents because it could add respect.

I always compare a chemistry hobby with amateur astronomy just because it is relatively the same percentage of population who do astronomy or even less. So, there are cases when people cooperate to build an amateur observatory, which also requires some expenses and sharing of knowledge. And there are even more cases when former observatories which have financial problems give ability to rent their equipment.



[Edited on 29-8-2019 by teodor]

[Edited on 29-8-2019 by teodor]
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[*] posted on 6-9-2019 at 05:05


In Indiana where there is still a bit of a drug epidemic the best places to go for those interested in chemistry are community colleges. There is no short supply in them and if you are a pretty well communicated person you can do and find what you are looking for, or find someone who can source it for you assuming that your intentions are well placed. Aside from that there aren't many community studies outside of this unless you find yourself involved in some sort of study group or put together group usually based on education.
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[*] posted on 23-10-2019 at 18:53


I have been thinking about the hobby chemist for a while. 35 years ago, I could walk into a drug store, paint store, hardware store, or even a small chemical supply store (mostly for teachers then) and buy nearly anything imaginable. I was able to buy zinc and aluminum powders, nitrates, sulfur, and many other chemicals. I had two different chemistry sets, one of which I recently found parts of, plus lots of other stuff bought in surplus stores and other places. My parents were clueless about chemistry (like Sheldon) and just made me move it all out to a shed once I started making a mess inside (calcium carbide and water to make acetylene lamp, which created soot that blacken the curtains). The fire also scared them a bit. We also got to play with liquid mercury in middle school, just like it was water. Now they would close the school and call hazmat for much less.

As I got older, I could get chemicals from school teachers (some supervision) as well as then in college, the buildings were open 24/7, and you could walk into most labs. I worked in a lab doing undergrad research, and was allowed to access most glassware and chemicals with minor supervision, my advisor was more worried about the cost of the glassware than the danger I posed to society. But he encouraged me a great deal to pursue organic chemistry, and I went far. I was lucky to have many people who encouraged me, unlike now, when chemicals are dangerous and evil. But I did do some risky things with chemicals (acetylene was among the safest things I made...) But later I worked for a fluorine chemist, and learned about real hazards...

So I see both sides, a world with crazy terrorists and drug cooks, but also one where people should be able to learn and teach themselves science without the police state arresting them. I would love to see more good mentors and teachers, but they are being pulled from all sides with budget cuts, liability risks, and school policies than try to avoid doing anything real or tangible in this virtual world. Maybe we can fund some kits for schools or something like that. The ACS should be the one doing that, but they are too busy trying to avoid open journals...
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[*] posted on 30-10-2019 at 17:51


I needed some drain cleaner and was surprised to find that $5 walmart 100% lye is in fact, AFAIK, NaOH w/o additives. It was some weird green stuff just a few months ago. CPSC be damned if it still exists. A bit over 15 years past I walked through the walmart in Kirksville MO and was just as surprised to see signs saying a drivers license was required to purchase aquarium air bubbler tubing. I think the restrictions on I and P will remain however.



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[*] posted on 9-7-2020 at 00:06


Things seem to fluctuate and they are not even based on law or anything. 10 years ago some stuff was really hard to obtain, but just a while ago I was shocked to see for example 10 liters of pure toluene with 20% of acetone sold for 25 bucks otc as a paint thinner. Sulfuric acid hasn't really been never sold as drain cleaner here, but pure sodium hydroxide granules are freely available starting from 5 bucks a kg from supermarkets, and if you are willing to buy 25kg bag, you'll get it for 50 bucks.

But oh boy how much a company status effects. Once you hit that magic card on the desk, they'll just throw a full list with low prices and don't ever look twice no matter what you choose. Well, haven't and probably wont ask for any controlled stuff because I don't need it, but for example all consumer restrictions do not apply at all to a company customer.
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[*] posted on 10-7-2020 at 18:07


I believe the reason it's relatively hard to find chemicals as an amateur is just because demand is very low. This is a rare hobby. I have literally never met anyone who would want to do home chemistry as a hobby, even if it was easy to find materials. Out of a city with population 100,000, I would not be surprised if I was the only one, maybe one other.

At any moment there are only a handful of chemical suppliers in the entire nation that take the time to ship to amateurs. Literally none in the entire Dallas fort worth metro, and one in san antonio.

Quote: Originally posted by woelen  

The situation, however, is harsh for the beginning young enthusiasts, who want to do interesting experiments. In 1985 I went to a local shop to buy KNO3, S, and C for making coarse black powder, I even purchased KClO3 for some more spectacular demos. All of these I could buy for a little pocket money at a drugstore in small quantities (e.g. 100 grams of KClO3 or 250 grams of KNO3). Also the most common acids I could buy without any problem (250 ml 96% H2SO4, 1 liter of 30% HCl, 1 liter of 60% HNO3). The young starter boy or girl nowadays cannot obtain anything interesting locally and this may lead to quitting the hobby before it even really starts. A 14 year old boy does not have a credit card for buying at an online shop in another part of the world.


I don't want to think this is because of the "war on this", and the "war on that". There's nothing illegal about selling KNO3, S, and C. These are legal unregulated chemicals with legal uses that far outnumber illegal uses, and the police can't shut down a store for selling them.

Maybe it's because interest in science is out of fashion in present times, so demand has gone down to nothing? Less forms of instant entertainment in the 1980s meant it was more common to like science. Now everyone only cares about video games and netflix. I have literally never met anyone else in person with a similar interest in chemistry as me.

[Edited on 7-11-2020 by Cou]




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[*] posted on 10-7-2020 at 23:19


I also believe in the lack of demand. It is technically legal to sell everything but a very few specifically restricted chemicals.

There was a small forum ages ago which showed that there were only half a dozen of people who were into chemistry, and nowadays I know only one who has actually done some experiments. The other one is conceptually interested, but he's more of the dreamer type who mostly just binges on fast food, recreational drugs and games.
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[*] posted on 11-7-2020 at 20:52


I don't see why liability would be a concern either. The dollar store sells some really nasty stuff that will mess you up worse than many lab chemicals. Household bleach, drain cleaner, etc. But they aren't scared of getting sued by idiots that drink bleach.



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[*] posted on 12-7-2020 at 13:13


It's mostly based on concept "where does an ordinary citizen need x".

On the basis that everything is forbidden unless specifically allowed.

You know, that your only right to exist is in three forms: sleep, work, consume.

The more specific response to liability is that when supplier x stuff that is exclusively used for something serious, they get into bad light. It is bad rep for Sigma to see their labels in dirty stash dump of drug cook/terrorically motivated person in the 5'o'clock breaking news. Basically no one wants to be associated with something that is considered next to pedophilism in society. How the ordinary people see it: sponsored by [trademark here]".

Considering how short minded consumer cattle are, I would just create a new, non-marketed trademark private label that is sold to consumers and other non-accredited customers and is in no way represented in their official marketing material. Hence no one would know that the stuff is made by them, except some dirt-digging reporter, but no one's interested about conspiracies.
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