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Effect of flushing a bunch of pure potassium metal down the toilet?


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#1 Hypercube

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Posted 15 July 2011 - 01:56 AM

OK, I know this is most likely a load of nonsense, but I just have to ask. I heard someone at my university discussing an incident which allegedly happened while they were in high school involving some moron swiping a whole bunch of pure sodium or potassium metal from the chemical store room (don't ask me how he could have gotten in, because I have absolutely no idea) and flushing it down one of the school's toilets.

Now I can maybe see some idiot prankster actually pulling a stunt like that, but I am extremely dubious about the alleged results of this prank; basically the metal reacted exactly as you would imagine it would a few seconds after coming in contact with water, namely it blew up. But here's where it starts sounding like MythBusters 101; this supposedly created some sort of intense pressure wave which surged through and ruptured almost every pipe on the entire floor.

Is this even within the realm of possibility? Quite frankly it sounds like complete lunacy, but I'm a microbiologist not a chemist, so I don't know for sure.
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#2 mississippichem

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Posted 15 July 2011 - 02:29 AM

You would need a lot of sodium or potassium, thats for sure. Sounds like a tall tale to me. Nobody in their right mind keeps a lot of those things on hand in the lab anyway. The most sodium I've seen in one place is somewhere near five grams, in an organic lab of course.
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#3 WorldOfBiochemistry

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Posted 15 July 2011 - 05:47 AM

In my highscool the pipes from a lab were partially destroyed with sodium thrown up to them. I did not see that, but the truth is that the lab was closed for several weeks.

Nevertheless, I think that the main reason behind that destruction is the energy released during the contact of sodium with water. It is a very exothermic reaction, and the resulting explosion will certainly damage the pipes.

OK, I know this is most likely a load of nonsense, but I just have to ask. I heard someone at my university discussing an incident which allegedly happened while they were in high school involving some moron swiping a whole bunch of pure sodium or potassium metal from the chemical store room (don't ask me how he could have gotten in, because I have absolutely no idea) and flushing it down one of the school's toilets.

Now I can maybe see some idiot prankster actually pulling a stunt like that, but I am extremely dubious about the alleged results of this prank; basically the metal reacted exactly as you would imagine it would a few seconds after coming in contact with water, namely it blew up. But here's where it starts sounding like MythBusters 101; this supposedly created some sort of intense pressure wave which surged through and ruptured almost every pipe on the entire floor.

Is this even within the realm of possibility? Quite frankly it sounds like complete lunacy, but I'm a microbiologist not a chemist, so I don't know for sure.


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#4 Hypercube

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Posted 16 July 2011 - 02:21 PM

How the heck would tossing Sodium at pipes on the ceiling cause it to explode? Sodium explodes when in contact with water; just coming in contact with metal pipes wouldn't cause it to react violently.
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#5 rktpro

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Posted 7 August 2011 - 01:09 PM

Hypercube,
That won't produce a shockwave! That really requires a lot of sodium as specified by mississippichem. And also, it wouldn't produce that much heat that would be required to convert all the water into steam and provide enough pressure for the pipes to burst. Also, the hydrogen produced won't be that large that it ignites the whole of the tube.
Hey one question!
Can ignited hydrogen be extinguished using water?
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#6 Fanghur

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Posted 15 August 2011 - 01:09 PM

Can ignited hydrogen be extinguished using water?


As far as I know there's no real reason that hydrogen can't be extinguished using water, at least in theory. The problem is that as hydrogen is a gas it would be burning in the air, rather than burning ON something, which would make using water on it extremely impractical.
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#7 Caesius

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Posted 15 August 2011 - 06:40 PM

This sounds very similar to what my Grandpa did when he was in Highschool. He did get some sodium, except he melted some sugar and put the sodium in there. When the sugar hardened he flushed it down the toilet. When the sugar dissolved minutes later in a small pipe the sodium reacted with the water causing all the toilets in the school to backfire.


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#8 rktpro

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Posted 25 August 2011 - 11:57 PM

This sounds very similar to what my Grandpa did when he was in Highschool. He did get some sodium, except he melted some sugar and put the sodium in there. When the sugar hardened he flushed it down the toilet. When the sugar dissolved minutes later in a small pipe the sodium reacted with the water causing all the toilets in the school to backfire.



+1 to your grandpa.
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#9 WorldOfBiochemistry

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Posted 26 August 2011 - 01:36 PM

I agree, but the problem was that after they put sodium in the pipes, they add some water through them.

How the heck would tossing Sodium at pipes on the ceiling cause it to explode? Sodium explodes when in contact with water; just coming in contact with metal pipes wouldn't cause it to react violently.


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