Saturday, September 25, 2010

What A Mess

Shall we talk now about hazardous chemicals?

One of the particular intersections between my father's mechanic trade and his hoarding ways was that some of the stuff he saved was, well, to be frank, some really nasty shit. Like chemicals from, oh, thirty or forty years ago, back in the day when stuff like DDT was considered harmless, and a sign of good old 'Merican progress.

Like the bottle of muriatic acid Tara found in the garage the other day.

For those of you unfamiliar with the stuff, it is (was) used in cleaning masonry, like, for example, if you put down some tiles, then squeegeed some grout over them, then needed something strong to get that grout off the surface of the tiles themselves. Or if you'd had, say, some salts or whatever leaching out of a brick wall that you needed to wire brush off. Nowadays though there are other, far less potent things that may be used, and muriatic acid is generally frowned upon, or considered a last resort kind of thing. It is also used in etching, meaning, it eats through metal.

It does not eat through plastic, though, which is why the bottle we came across in the garage was made of it. And judging by the typeface and design on the bottle, it looked to have been from the mid-60s or so.

So. We've got a particularly nasty and caustic (don't ask what that stuff will do to your skin) chemical stored in a decades-old plastic bottle. What could possibly go wrong?

I'm not exactly sure what happened. I don't know if Tara just picked the thing up wrong, or bumped the inevitably quite brittle bottle with something or what, but next thing I know Tara is like OMG!! The muriatic acid is leaking all over the place!!!


So I ran off to get a bucket.

When I got back she had managed to divert it into the only container handy, a plastic jug that had once held cat litter. The only problem being that said jug also was half-full of old filthy waste oil.

Which created another problem, but we'll get back to that.

In the mean time I went into the house to look up what to do. And really, Goddess bless the internet and Google, because within a minute I knew that the solution was to pour a bunch of baking soda on the stuff. Logical, and kind of obvious, if you've ever made one of those vinegar + baking soda 'volcano' science projects, but not something I ever would have figured out on my own. Or at least not in a timely fashion, which was, oh I don't know, kind of important.

So I ran down to the kitchen and grabbed some boxes of baking soda; I came back up to the garage and started pouring the stuff on the spills, on the workbench, the floor, the stuff on the workbench, the stuff on the floor, &c. They hissed and foamed and then became a harmless salt. Which is a nice bit of work, really.

But back to that other problem. The internet informs me that the proper way to dispose of muriatic acid is to put a gallon of water in a bucket (preferably a big bucket, like a five gallon one), then mix a few cups of baking soda or lime (also a base) into it. Then, very slowly and very carefully, pour the acid into the water, not the water into the acid. ALWAYS THE ACID INTO THE WATER. VERY IMPORTANT. Because water and acid create a chemical reaction, and if the water is on top, the acid can sort of, well, explode out and spatter everywhere, since it's trapped under the water. I do believe that is what one might reasonably call not a good scenario.

The problem, of course, was that the muriatic acid was now mixed with a bunch of nasty disgusting waste oil. Which, luckily, had not itself reacted with the acid; but it was rather a mess. And I was out of baking soda, having used up all three of the boxes we had in the house.

So I ran to the supermarket, where I discovered you can actually buy the stuff in four pound boxes. Alleluia.

When I got back I put the water and baking soda in a bucket, and Tara poured the oil/acid mix into it. Not nearly slowly enough, of course, as it bubbled and hissed and then foamed up and over the rim of the bucket. Ai, yuck.

But eventually it stopped foaming, though given the relative densities of the three elements, which want to form into layers, we had to stir it a bit.

What a mess.

It's still sitting there today (this was all last night) in those buckets; hopefully we can pour out the oil, which should have settled down by now into a layer on top. But I'm not sure how separate it's going to be. In theory, water plus baking soda plus the acid becomes harmless and can be poured down a storm drain or the sink into a septic system; but I don't know that we'll get all the oil out. I guess it will probably just all end up going in the waste oil bin at the dump (recycling center); after all there's plenty of other gunk in it too that I assume they will know how to filter out, and the acid itself has been made harmless.

Still, a mess.

Thanks Dad!


Dave said...


Just wanted to post a note to let you know I really enjoy your blog. I am in the process of cleaning out a hoarders crap as well and I enjoy the sense of humor which you bring to a nasty process.

Thalia said...

Thank you Dave, and very very best of luck to you in your work.