GOOD CHEMISTRY (Guest Post by Paul Curran)

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I had occasion to cast my thoughts back to my first degree in Chemistry this week while commenting on Behind the White Coat, and I realized there were some amusing, if not frightening things that happened there – when you give teenage boys access to large, fully stocked Chemistry Labs.

Chemistry

Most people consider the chemical compounds, both in living things (organic) and in non-living things (inorganic) as being known or at least knowable. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

In fact even though there are 100’s of thousands of recorded compounds, still a simple reaction in an undergrad lab can make a compound that has never been seen before on the face of the Earth. We did that one day with careful planning that laid out the reaction, expected yields and other chemical stuff. The thing is that until you make a new compound there is no way to know what its properties will be like (it is assumed that it will be similar to the major inputs – which it often isn’t).

So this fateful day we produced a brand new compound and did it in the fume hood that exhausted all the gases to be removed. Just as we were part-way through, power went down causing all the exhaust fans in all the fume hoods in the whole complex to slowly whirl to a stop. In very short order we realized that our brand new, created compound was a very strong lachrymator – a fancy word that means it burns the eyes and makes tears flow while causing respiratory distress. Because the reaction was still ongoing and we couldn’t stop it (random attempts to stop any reaction without careful planning could result in an explosion or fire or other even more serious outcome.)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And so it came to be that the gas followed all the exhaust lines through the building and came out on every floor, spreading amazingly fast. It was necessary to evacuate the whole building for the rest of the day – and it being a Friday, for what then turned into a long weekend. We were quite proud of what we had accomplished while trying very hard to remain appropriately contrite when questioned about the stream of tearful and gasping students and staff pouring from the building. Ha! If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.

Laboratory classes are complex beasts. It is necessary for the students to have hands-on experience for learning purposes and yet it is not possible for a professor to watch 30 students who are all working with potentially dangerous chemicals and equipment. To that end, they hire students who have already completed that class as monitors or lab assistants. Generally one monitor will have about 6 students they are required to keep safe. That said, there is still the need for each student to be careful and understand what they are doing.

Every year after my first, I worked part-time as a lab monitor. In my third year, I was assigned to a second-year physical chemistry lab class as a monitor. We had some students who were smart but had no common sense at all.

One day, when I was off, the class was doing an experiment with a device called a “Bomb Calorimeter” – its very name suggesting caution was in order. The gist of the experiment was to mix two carefully weighed, dry chemicals in a heavy brass sealed container with a fuse inserted. The whole shebang was lowered into a large insulated plastic container that contained gallons of water. The temperature and volume of water was measured carefully to determine the amount of ambient energy. Then the fuse was activated (electrical) setting off a small explosion inside the inner container. The subsequent rise in temperature indicated the amount of energy released.

On this day, two students loaded the bomb calorimeter and had the top on before the monitor could check it. They had neglected the “measure” part and had filled the explosion chamber full to the top. When they triggered it, the equipment disintegrated like a hand grenade, the resulting explosion throwing pieces of metal and plastic as well as gallons of water all over the lab. The sharp metal remains impaled the ceiling, peppered the walls, broke a window and damaged a lot of other equipment sitting close by. Other than getting wet, not one student was touched.

And so once again God proves that He takes special care of small children, drunks and fools.

Bunsen BurnerAwareness and tidiness are both critical in the lab. I had a messy pair of students who were doing an experiment one day that required the use of a Bunsen burner. They were using ethanol (denatured – meaning undrinkable) as a solvent in an experiment and had spilled it on the lab counter. Their workspace was right in front of a big window and the sun was shining in brightly. They were huddled over a beaker at one end of the counter when I walked up. I noticed a sparkle out of the corner of my eye and looking closer I realized they had set the spilled ethanol on fire and the whole lab bench was burning. Ethanol burns cool with a very light blue flame, but the danger is that it will set other things on fire, like wood or plastic. I hollered at them and grabbed a fire extinguisher to put out the fire. They were very apologetic, but still got a blast from me about awareness and tidiness.

Even though many incidents in the lab occur either by accident or unforeseen circumstances sometimes they are engineered – the guilty parties often not identified. Ha!

I was in a third-year analytical chemistry lab and the second half of the lab day was scheduled for a first-year class. Most new students are very nervous in a lab, never having worked with chemicals before and not knowing what to expect. Playing jokes on them had become a sort of initiation process – as long as there was no chance of harm or damage. And so a few of us got together and devised a prank. We also made the time to hang around and see how it played out.

We knew the first-years were scheduled to do some simple tasks to familiarize themselves with the equipment – there would be no flammable chemicals or expensive equipment present. Sodium metal is a soft, crumbly silver solid that forms a brownish surface when stored. It is super sensitive to water and when exposed it will produce hydrogen, oxygen and heat – which means it bursts into flames when water hits it. It was stored in the lab in a glass container filled with clear oil. It was not accessible to the first-years, but we third-years could get some by transferring a piece with tongs to another glass container.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We cleaned out one of the drains in the lab sink at one station and made sure it was perfectly dry. Then we dropped a small piece of sodium down the drain and waited for the class to arrive. The pair of students at that work station was male and very chatty. They weren’t paying much attention until one of them turned on the tap. Bwahaha!

As soon as the water hit the sodium, a “POP!” resounded and a tongue of flame about three inches high erupted from the drain. They froze in panic with their mouths open and then one reached over and opened the tap wider, trying to put out the flame. The more water that went down the drain the bigger the flame grew. It reached about 12 inches high when the sodium ran out and, with a “Poof!” the flame disappeared. The students ran over to the monitor and they were babbling about flames and the sink.

The monitor came over and checked – turning the water off and on, and of course nothing happened. He was starting to seriously doubt this pair when he spied three of us in the hallway laughing so hard we were almost rolling on the floor. It must have clicked what we had done and he just shook his head and told the boys to pay more attention to what they were doing. Ha!

After four years in Chemistry, I bought my own tractor-trailer and went trucking across the continent. I must say that I missed the daily interactions and the studying. As far as learning was concerned that continued unabated – just in a different forum.

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Paul Curran and I love to hear from our readers. You my comment on this post, comment on my Facebook or Twitter pages, or email me at cordeliasmom2012@yahoo.com

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Paul Curran photo by Paul Curran; fan and drain photos by Cordelia’s Mom; credit for other photos is embedded within the photo itself.

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82 Responses to GOOD CHEMISTRY (Guest Post by Paul Curran)

  1. Ha! You bring back fond memories, Paul. I swear, there is nothing more dangerous than a student lab. I spent a few years in chemistry, and shocking I know, but I was such a smart alec, I often got kicked out. Also our teacher was not very fond of girls, so simply to ask, “but what would happen if…” was sure to send him into an apoplectic fit. Twice I got kicked out and had to go stand on the evacuation field…. where I was soon joined by the entire class, actually evacuating. So THIS is why we should always ask “stupid” questions I tried to explain, but of course I never managed to convince him. Really funny, I once helped his daughter sneak back into her second story bedroom after a night on the town.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Paul says:

      That’s awesome IB – just so many possibilities ripe for the picking in a lab – Ha! Personally I never chastised a student for a question,but it was common for monitors or profs to dismiss questions they thought were stupid. I always thought that was not a good idea. I can just picture you misbehaving,for some reason. 😀

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks so much for dropping by for a read and a comment IB – it is a pleasure as always.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Paul says:

    Hey CM! The editing is great – thank you for giving me the opportunity to guest post and for adding the pictures and straightening it up. Much obliged. **Tips hat as he bows**

    Like

  3. Elyse says:

    What fun — you have had quite a life, Paul. More full of stories than the average bear!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Paul says:

      Thanks Elyse for dropping by and for the kind words. My life has been a lot of things over the years but never boring. Scary sometimes and miraculous upon occasion, but never boring. Even as a kid I was always up to something. Thanks again for the visit. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Chemistry is everywhere…not sure if it’s good or bad that some lock it up in labs (My dad taught chemistry/physics) I had a cool chemistry set, but could only use it outdoors. Dad told mom that nothing in it mixed together could blow up. And nothing did, but not for the lack of mixing….maybe I should go into bar tending.
    Those blue flames are almost mesmerizing – good you caught that one so fast. (no place has more pranks than science labs, right?)
    Hilarious post, Paul.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Paul says:

      Thank you so very much Phil. It is a pleasure to have you visit and thank you for the compliments. i too had Chemistry sets – each larger than the previous. I loved the experiments and mixing stuff together and I did manage to blow up a few minor things 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  5. 1jaded1 says:

    Chemistry is so fun. We never had such an experience. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Paul says:

      Hey 1J1! Pleasure to see you here – my thanks for dropping by for a read and comment. Chemistry is fun. I always enjoyed it. I may have continued with it – I was offered a position in their Master’s program- but once you go past an undergrad degree, basically you will
      eventually end up in a lab job somewhere. I enjoy travel and people too much to do that. So Chemistry and I tearfully went our separate ways. Sob! W\hen I think back, I went into Chemistry because it was fun and came easy to me. Anyway 1J1 thanks again for the visit – I am honored. Please drop by again. 😀

      Like

  6. LOL! Argh… Chem was a ton of fun and fear. Still… yeah, remind me that once you get out to the coast, if you’re ever visiting me, I will remain in charge of all heating elements: stove, microwave, toaster, curling iron. Deal?

    Liked by 2 people

  7. barbtaub says:

    Hi Paul! Thanks for the laughs. I’m not sure the world was ready for you as a chemist.

    My favourite bit– ” If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” I’ll have to remember that one!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Paul says:

      Thanks so much for dropping by Barb – a pleasure as always. I’m glad you enjoyed the post and I hope you visit again/

      Like

  8. ksbeth says:

    student labs can be a recipe for disaster!)

    Liked by 2 people

    • Paul says:

      Spoken as a true teacher – Ha! As a student, I find such labs enticing – what kind of trouble can I get into today? Ha! Thanks so much for dropping by for a read and comment Beth. I am honored. Y’all come back soon, ya hear? Ha!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. LOL, what a F-I-Ne story! d=(´▽`)=b

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Can you imagine any of those shenanigans being pulled today? With our constant paranoia about terrorism or domestic attack? I’m hoping these sorts of things are still going on. Not only is it a part of the learning curve, it’s awfully good fun and part of growing up. Nice memories. Got anymore?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Paul says:

      Hey Mark! Awesome to see you here – thank you for dropping by. I hadn’t thought of the terrorism angle – but you are right, such occurrences might very well be assumed to be nefarious these days. Everyone takes themselves so seriously now, I’m sure there would be punishment for any of the occurrences in this story, When they occurred though, no one was that up tight and if you blew something up,as long as no one was hurt, it was just considered a part of the learning – you may get a verbal rap on the fingers but not much more.

      I am honored that you came for a visit. Thank you. Please come again.

      Like

  11. Dan Antion says:

    Great stories Paul and some memories as well. I got a degree in chemistry, but I never worked as one. Still, the learning was fun,

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Barry says:

    Reminds me of the time when I was around 14 or 15 and the class was divided into groups and each was assigned to make a different ester. Towards the end of class there were various smell of apple, pear, pineapple among several others. One group had made a very large amount of Isoamyl acetate (I think that’s what it was – smelt of very ripe bananas). Anyway, to cut a long story short, they manged to spill the entire contents onto the wooden floor of the lab. The building was built before the 1930s and there was nothing like forced ventilation. Within a minute we were forced to leave the lab as the fumes filled the air. It wasn’t long before adjacent rooms were also evacuated as the overpowering stench of over ripe bananas permeated the entire building. That lab wasn’t able to be used for almost a week, and for the rest of the term, the lab wreaked of ripe fruit. It was the only room in the entire school that had windows open on the coldest days that winter.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Paul says:

      Bwahahaha! that is hilarious Barry. Esters are a hoot. The reaction we did was also organic, the activation energies are much lower for organic reactions thus easier and safer for students. The downside, of course, being that we are organic so organic compounds tend to produce much stronger interactions with our systems. Ha! That is a great story Barry,

      I actually enjoyed analytical chemistry (although the course was very hard) especially solving mysteries using various tests from wet chemistry to NMR to refractometry to diffusion to nuclear activation analysis(NAA). A funny story – the administration bought a nuclear experimental reactor for NAA. It had to be installed in a deep concrete pool set in bedrock (in case of earthquake) with a constant supply of cooling seawater. They chose to install it in the basement of the brand new Life Sciences building which sat on bedrock and was closest to the ocean for running the cooling lines. The construction was almost done when the Biology students realized what was going on and they took a fit – a nuclear reactor (all be it a tiny one) in the biology building. Ha! We Chem majors and physics majors looked on with amusement as the Biology students marched up and down in protest. To no avail – the reactor was finished and brought on line. It was an amazing tool Barry – have you ever worked with one? you send your sample down a air powered tube into the reaction chamber at the bottom of the pool.It sits there for a bit soaking up neutrons. Then you power it back up to the surface and remove the sample and read the output of neutrons in a neutron detector. Every element drains off the neutrons at different energy levels – so the output looks like an ECG strip with high energy at one end and low at the other and spikes indicating presence of elements at various energy levels in between. It is immensely sensitive and can read in parts per trillions – orders of magnitude greater than wet chemistry. In fact the biology students were somewhat mollified when the reactor was used to identify arsenic poisoning in a local community water supply, that was making people very sick. The community was built to mine gold but the mines had long since been closed. The issue was that where gold is found,so is arsenic. The arsenic was too low a concentration to be detectable in the water and environment but the human body does not have the mechanisms necessary to excrete it,so it builds up and causes serious damage. It had stumped the local investigators because the water still tested fine. They asked the university to help and we ran NAA and found the arsenic. Once they knew what to look for, they found it in the residents. They used chelating treatment to remove the arsenic from the residents and put in city water to solve the problem.

      Anyway,all that to say that I enjoyed Chemistry but I wasn’t really cut out to be a lab rat – so we parted ways. Thanks again for the visit Barry – please come again.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Barry says:

        Have I ever worked with a nuclear reactor? Hey, this is NZ! There ain’t such a thing here. There was a very small experimental one in Auckland, but that was decommissioned decades ago.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Paul says:

          This is just a wee little one called Slow Poke. It can only be used for experiments. I had actually forgotten that NZ was nuke free but i am sure that wouldn’t apply to an experimental reactor.

          Like

          • Barry says:

            We’re not actually nuclear free. That’s a common misconception. We’re nuclear weapons free.

            Radioactive materials are used in industry and science, but there are no reactors operating here.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Paul says:

              That surprises me as many nations have medical reactors they use to produce medical isotopes for cancer treatment and detection. The isotopes have a short half-life and it must be difficult to maintain a supply on an island nation by importing.

              Liked by 1 person

          • Barry says:

            I was wrong about the reactor being in Auckland. It was a research reactor at Lincoln University in Christchurch. It was shut down in 1981.

            We do have a number of particle accelerators. There’s a cyclotron in Wellington that produces fluorine-18 for Pet scanners. Fluorine-18 has a half-life of 109 minutes, so the journey from Australia meant it was seriously depleted by the time it was able to be utilised. As far as I know all other medical isotopes are flown in.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Paul says:

              Neat. Particle accelerators are become more popular for medical isotopes. Canada has an old reactor at Chalk River that was producing isotopes for years. The accelerators have taken a lot of their work away – much safer way to do it anyways. Thanks so much for the update Barry – IO find this stuff still fascinating.

              Liked by 1 person

  13. markbialczak says:

    Chemistry was a tough class for me in high school, Paul, but I soldiered on because of a great teacher. I still remember his name all these decades later. Thank you, Mr. Niciu, for acknowledging that not all of us were going to be whiz-bang graspers of your subject and nursing us along in a plain language that kept us interested and taught us enough to periodically show elements of understanding instead of tabling our focus forever.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Paul says:

      Thanks so much for dropping by Mark. A pleasure as always. Good teachers make one heck of a difference don’t they? I have an enormous respect for teachers. I too salute Mr. Niciu for keeping you interested and helping to learn. I was not very good at English literature and often struggled. I remember one grade 8 teacher who was excellent and who helped me a great deal and kept up my interest. Any knowledge I have of literature I can trace back to her.

      Thanks for your comment Mark – I am honored.

      Like

  14. Jenni says:

    Paul I have never been a chemist but I have been an eternal student in the world of ‘I want to know or I want to understand’ so I enjoyed your story and your journey. I also believed that your journey continues with or without test tubes or the like. Life and the lessons we learn and what keeps us going when the hard times comes and when the answers seem far from our grasp. But to to keep looking, to keep learning and most importantly to keep forever on the watch for the new and the interesting is what keeps those of us eternal seekers going – or at least in my opinion. One a totally technical note this was a well written and intriguing piece as it kept the interest of the reader up to and after you hitched your trailer off into the blue yonder. Well done.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Samara says:

    Laboratory classes ARE complex beasts!
    Great guest post, Paul. You never fail to entertain. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Paul says:

      Hi Samara! Welcome -it’s great to have you visit. You sound like you’ve had experience with lab classes. Please do tell? 😀 I always saw them as sort of open ended – the lesson plan may be solid but the outcome never failed to surprise – Ha! thanks so very much for the read and I am pleased that you enjoyed the post. Please drop by again Samara.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Samara says:

        Paul, my own KITCHEN is practically a lab class. I have a 12 year old boy.
        Do the words “coca cola and mentos” mean anything to you?

        Liked by 1 person

        • Paul says:

          Ha! If memory serves me correct – having tried that – it results in a huge plume of foam coming over the top of the glass. Baking soda and vinegar is another great combination. It can be used to power model rockets or toy boats. Ha!

          Like

  16. Paul, thank so much for the link. These stories are hilarious! And reading them, I’m so glad I never taught older kids – just elementary (K-6th), so never had to worry about chemistry. And thank you as well for introducing me to a new word – “lachrymator.” I’m going to have to find an excuse to use a form of it in a post or poem.I like the way it rolls off the tongue. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Paul says:

      Hi Susan! Thanks so much for dropping by. I’m pleased that you enjoyed the post. I bet you were an excellent teacher – your posts are superb – very professionally done. Always a solid message mixed with real people and situations. When you work with organic chemicals you get to see all sorts of effects like lachrymators – they are very interactive with the human form. We did a lot of work in fume hoods with heavy rubber gloves. Thanks again for the visit – i am honored.

      Like

  17. The Hook says:

    SCIENCE!!
    (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
    Well done, Paul.. you mad scientist.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Paul says:

      ha! Hook – great to have you visit man. Welcome! i’m glad you enjoyed the post – it is quite a bit different than what I have done before. At one point I thought I would be a mad scientist = there may very well e some of that left in me. 😀

      Like

  18. Lynn says:

    Holy Hannah, it sounds like you managed to dodge a few very dangerous situations! There in lies the reason I didn’t like science class…of any sort!

    In biology, I had the shit scared out of me when we were dissecting crayfish…yes crayfish. I had a very bad experience with them when I was portaging a boat (may have been inappropriately) & stepped on a rock with a cazillion of the little bastards. In biology, some stupid ass thought it was really funny chasing me in to the corner of the class with one!

    Chemistry, well, I think you just demonstrated why I didn’t like chemistry!

    Physics? Enough said!

    Great post Paul!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Paul says:

      Hi Lynn! Thanks so much for dropping by. Whew, you had a bad time with science, didn’t you? Ah well, it takes all kinds to make the world go around. I didn’t know that crayfish were that aggressive. Hey, if memory serves me right you’re here in Ontario too aren’t you? I’ve never seen any crayfish here. Scary. Thanks so much for the visit Lynn. Please drop by again.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Lynn says:

        I don’t think crayfish are aggressive but in this case, because there were so many of them sunning themselves on lovely flat piece of rock with shallow water, when I stepped in, they all just scattered & totally creeped me out. I will be forever scarred!!! lol…and yes, I am in Ontario!

        Liked by 1 person

  19. Paul, I’m constantly amazed at how much you know, have done, and learned. I know nothing about chemistry but got the gist of what went down in your stories. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Paul says:

      Hi Colleen! Great to see you here. I thank you very much for dropping by for a read. I tried to write the stories so they were clear without using too much jargon – explaining as I went along. I hope it was OK. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. thanks again for the visit – please come by again. 😀

      Like

  20. Hey Paul! Glad to see you writing again.
    One of my favorite science stories is memorizing the periodic table of elements…it actually took a Facts of Life episode (an 80s sitcom) to help me…
    One of the jokes in the show and memory tricks was for Au- for gold, “Hey You! (A U) come back here with my GOLD watch!”
    I forgot most of the elements, but that one I will always remember 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Paul says:

      Hey Christy! Wonderful to have you visit. That is a funny story about the gold. I remember Facts of Life – fun sitcom. It’s great to be back at the keyboard. Speaking of which,that is an amazing post you just published – Happy Anniversary! i’m glad you enjoyed the piece and thank you for dropping by. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  21. AmyRose🌹 says:

    I laughed SO hard, Paul! OMG! Now I know why I did not like chemistry. Boys are dangerous in a chem lab!! ROFLMAO!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Paul says:

      Thank you so very much for dropping by AmyRose. I’m pleased that you enjoyed the post – it was an interesting time in my life. The girls were typically more reserved and safety conscious than the boys in lab. So, you are right – they can be dangerous. I am honored that you visited for a read and comment. Please take a look around and drop in again.

      Liked by 1 person

  22. BerLinda says:

    Maybe I’ll bring a lachrymator to my most boring groups – set it off and escape 😉 Great post as always, Paul! Educational and informative! Our chemistry teacher had a nervous breakdown – nothing to do with me though, I swear 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  23. ~ Sadie ~ says:

    I love reading your stories, my friend! And you are right – God usually does take special care of small children, drunks and fools. LOVE the prank!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Paul says:

      Bwahaha! Thanks Sadie.Great to have you drop by my friend.We were bad at that age and always conniving. We “found”some empty fire extinguishers and unscrewed the tops. We placed a chunk of dry ice in each along with a mixture of flour and charcoal dust. When the tops were replaced, and the dry ice evaporated, it charged the extinguishers. Then we just waited for a rainy day and as students came in dripping wet, we sprayed them with charcoal and flour and ran laughing like fools.n It wasn’t long before the staff started keeping the empty extinguishers locked up.Ha!

      Thanks again for dropping by – I am honored.

      Liked by 1 person

  24. LindaGHill says:

    Oh aren’t you a naughty one. I’d be interested to hear how you’ve used what you learned in chemistry in the truck. There HAS to be a story there somewhere.
    Thanks for sharing, Paul! 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    • Paul says:

      Hi Linda! Awesome to see you here – thanks for dropping by to read and comment. I know you are busy these days.Chemistry and trucking had some amazing cross overs – actually some very amazing cross-overs. That would make a great post.I’ll sketch out a few here – a kind of TOC. First of all, the cross-over would often find me. For instance most companies haul hazardous goods – the fuel company i worked for hauled only hazardous goods. There were always questions not covered in the manual as to the dangers of broken packaging of chemicals, the advisability of hauling two particular chemicals in the same truck, in case if fire or accidental release, etc. Inevitably, I would start as a driver at a company and when they discovered my background, they promoted me to safety. Not only did this make things smoother for them, but in case of a lawsuit they had my degree to stand behind in claiming due diligence in pursuing safety. Interestingly enough I was deposed numerous times by lawyers as the company safety expert and when i stood them on their heads, they advised their clients to withdraw charges against the company. I depose well – or so they tell me. 😀

      We once had a major diesel spill when a hose failed during a pump off. We had to excavate about 30 truck loads of dirt and replace it. Diesel migrates underground so it required site testing every afternoon to insure we were clear before back-filling. I worked with an engineer doing the testing and the rules were loose so I decided where to sample. The engineer attested to the veracity of the test and results – but he who understands the migration of liquids in a medium, wins. The really interesting thing was that we kept getting positive results long after my calculations suggested our diesel could not have gone that far. I did some behind the scenes research with drivers who had delivered there over the years and they confessed that there had been numerous unreported spills and we were being used as a scape goat for cleaning it all up, because we were honest and reported. That pissed me off – no more Mr.Nice Guy. I knew something that the customer did not know about they delivery. The very day before we spilled, the major oil companies reduced the allowed amount of sulfur in their products – by new government environmental protection laws. Our truck held the very first shipment of Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel to this customer. I went to the engineers and asked if they could develop a soil test to determine the sulfur content of the diesel in the ground. They said it would be expensive but compared to a multi-million dollar lawsuit, it was cheap. I went to my management and our lawyers and showed them on paper how we could distinguish our spilled diesel from all others (ours was 15 ppm while for years it was 500 ppm sulfur) and asked for permission to close the excavation and be done with it. They agreed. I had a meeting with the site owners and they were furious but not nearly as furious as I was because they KNEW about the other spills and tried to screw us. i kept careful notes and the customer’s lawyers threatened to sue and deposed me. And then they decided not to pursue the charges, after my deposition.

      Some of my other useful behaviors involved being intimately aware of the laws. I knew the intent of much of the regulatory environment and as such could make things work.For instance all dangerous goods had to be placarded with the UN# in the center of the placard on a white background on a red placard (class 3 flammable). Our B-trains had 8 placards and although we kept full sets of the most common UN# placard numbers, we would occasionally get asked to haul other dangerous goods in the tankers. The universal placards were very expensive and had to be installed. I did some research and discovered that as far as the law was concerned, we could use white duct tape ($1.99 per roll) and mark the number on this and stick it on the placard, over the original and for pennies a placard could create a whole new set from what we had.

      Anyway, that is just a smattering of how chemistry and trucking crossed. Great idea Linda. Thank you.

      Like

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