Micro Life Zone
Asked by sscott to Arti, Chris, Dustin, James, Steven on 16 May 2012. This question was also asked by oalcorn.
Keywords: experiment, explosion
Ha. Great question. Burnt in my brain. I was 14 years old and in charge of cleaning our pool at home, keeping the chlorine levels right, and general pool care. We had one of those floating chlorine dispensers that you put powder or tablets in and they dissolve while it floats around. Ok, so get home after school, check the dispenser and the tablets are half dissolved. Go to add more. Can’t find more, but do find a very old bag of chlorine powder in the corner of the shed. Fill up the dispenser and chucked it back in the pool. About 5 minutes later the float exploded and it sounded like a 50 mm cannon. I turned in time to see the float in about 20 pieces, 30 m in the air and dispensing themselves over the neighbors (and their neighbors) yards. It was awesome. To this day I don’t know why it happened, but I assume it was the out of date chlorine and mixing it with the new stuff. I do know that chlorine is a pretty volatile element and can be unstable. Arti is a chemist, she will be able to tell me – I’ve always wanted to know why it happened.
I haven’t seen many explosions but a friend of mine watches them every day. His job is to build boxes that the bomb squad would use to explode bombs in. He has to phone the army every now and then and ask for dynamite. Science is awesome.
Hi sscott and oalcorn,
I was in the Army for a little while, so I have seen some pretty big explosions, and been a part of a few of them.
One of the biggest differences between the explosions you see in movies and TV compared to, what is referred to as high explosive (what the military actually uses) is that there is no fire ball with high explosive.
The sounds are also very different. In the movies, there is the big rumble and boom when something blows up, but with high explosive it is a very short and sharp crack.
Hi sscott and oalcorn,
I had a reaction that exploded in the lab once – there was no fire (thankfully!) but everything did rush violently out of the flask. That’s the only one I’ve seen in person. It was in a fumehood (you might have a small one of these in your science classroom/lab at school) and everything exploded out of the flask all over the fumehood walls and ceiling. I spent most of the next day trying to clean it off!
Hi Steven, interesting story!
Its hard to say exactly what happened without knowing what the chemicals you had actually were, but most chemicals for cleaning pools are either inorganic chlorides (such as sodium hydrochlorite or calcium hypochlorite) or are organic sources of chloride, such as sodium dichloroisocyanurate. Hypochlorites decompose in sunlight to produce chlorine and oxygen gases. Because it is quite unstable, hypochlorite is a very strong oxidising agent. Its reactions with organic compounds are very exothermic (ie. produce a lot of heat and energy), so these inorganic and organic compounds would react very strongly (and violently!) with each other. Sodium hypochlorite is only sold as aqueous solutions of low concentrations (this is what is usually the active ingredient in household bleach) but I think calcium hypochlorite is available as powder for pools. I think sodium dichloroisocyanurate is also a solid, so maybe you ended up mixing an organic and an inorganic compound together and that is why you had a large explosion? This is the only thing I could think of.
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