sodium thiosulfate


Most of the bromine-related content I see on tumblr boils down to three categories:

-The Breaking Bad logo. 

-“omg they put chemicals in mountain dew u gaiz!”

-horrible, horrible puns.

Well, that’s too bad, because bromine is far more awesome and horrifying than that.  It’s liquid at room temperature.   That’s what they tell you anyway.  When you pour it out of the bottle, though, the vapors billow out first.  It takes a second to be sure whether you’re actually pouring it or not.  The vapor itself isn’t so unusual, but because you can see it, and because it’s heavier than air, that makes it a lot more conspicuous.  The fumes sort of hang over the liquid like a dark orange fog.  This is when you start to contemplate the skull pictogram on the bottle it came in.   You don’t screw around with this stuff.   This is what fume hoods and safety glasses are made for.

The smell is interesting.  Bromine was named after the stench of a goat, but that description doesn’t do it justice.  Well, to be fair, I’ve never smelled a goat, but I’m pretty sure they don’t smell like that.  It’s not quite like the chlorine smell from a pool, not quite like the smell of ozone.  It’s been a long time since I worked with it, though, so I’m having trouble remembering. 

The way to dispose of bromine is to dilute it in water and add sodium thiosulfate.  The bromine is reduced to (relatively) harmless bromide ions, while the thiosulfate ions are oxidized to sulfur dioxide and elemental sulfur.  Come to think of it, this may be why I’m misremembering the smell.  I’m probably recalling the scent of sulfur dioxide, which also has a bleach-like smell.  The nice thing about the process is that you can tell you killed all the bromine because the solution turns from dark orange (bromine) to pale yellow (sulfur).  Then you can just adjust the pH and pour it down the sink.

There’s a lot of confusion about the hazards of bromine, and it appears to stem from the fact that people don’t understand the difference between bromine and its compounds.  Bromine by itself is a very reactive element.   It’s corrosive because it’s trying to react with whatever happens to be nearby.  It’s not as reactive as chlorine, but it has the same avenue of attack.  If you inhale it, it seeks out water in your mucous membranes and forms hydrobromic acid, which would be pretty painful.

The thing is, most of the elements are unstable or reactive in their native state.  There’s exceptions, of course.  Nitrogen, gold, and helium are all well-known elements that are reasonably safe to handle.   But most of the elements want to be part of a chemical compound.   They want to combine with other elements, some of them desperately so, and they’ll react with air, water, or you if nothing else presents itself. 

Consequently, a lot of chemical compounds made from these elements are much milder and safer.  Bromine salts aren’t nearly as dangerous, which is why they’re used in hot tubs.   Brominated vegetable oil is the stuff they put in Mountain Dew, and while it has some controversy surrounding it, it’s far less toxic than the bromine compounds used as flame retardants.  Just because they all contain bromine atoms doesn’t mean they’re all alike.  Gasoline and steak both contain carbon and hydrogen atoms, but the similarities end there.

In conclusion: Bromine, won’t you?