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20,000 Pounds of Sodium Dumped in a Lake
November 1, 2007 6:00 AM   Subscribe

A rather interesting post WW II video of metallic sodium being disposed of in a lake. You might have seen this on a small scale back in high school chemistry class when the teacher put a tiny sliver of sodium in a bowl of water.
posted by polysigma (47 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ach that's nothing, in my school we had to drink Irn Bru or Coca Cola wi freshly sliced potassium in it on the first day in the class.
posted by ClanvidHorse at 6:12 AM on November 1, 2007


"The alkali lake is devoid of fish and forms an admirable disposal spot"

How did the lake get alkali? (I'm not blaming, I'm just curious.) I wasn't able to find a "Lake Linole" in Washington, probably due to spelling.

Also, the video says they are destroying it because "no public carrier will deliver it to a purchaser"....but they drove it on a truck to get it to the lake, right? Why can't they deliver it themselves?
posted by DU at 6:18 AM on November 1, 2007


Crikey, I've never seen what looked like a lake burning before, but then I didn't live near Lake Erie in the 70's.
posted by spock at 6:22 AM on November 1, 2007


I love the star wars styled closing message. Almost as dramatic as the chemical reaction.
posted by mattoxic at 6:23 AM on November 1, 2007


More people should talk like that announcer.
posted by smackfu at 6:26 AM on November 1, 2007


I think it's Lake Lenore.
posted by fandango_matt at 6:27 AM on November 1, 2007


Lake Lenore, WA
posted by spock at 6:27 AM on November 1, 2007


Beat that diet coke / mento boys!
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 6:28 AM on November 1, 2007


Awesome! Yes, yes I did witness this in high school chemistry class. Part of the excitement was watching that sliver skip and jump across the surface of the water as it spluttered and smoked. Why didn't the same thing happen, but on a bigger scale, with this disposable? Was it the ice that contained it?
posted by tellurian at 6:29 AM on November 1, 2007


Seems to have fish now, and probably then too: lake Lenore’s 1670 acres is too alkaline to support fish other than Lahontan cutthroat.

Liberal Media circa 1947
posted by DU at 6:31 AM on November 1, 2007


If sodium is a naturally-occuring element in nature, would dumping it in a lake be bad? I realize this is probably a no-brainer, but I'm seriously wondering how or if dumping a bunch of sodium in a lake would have long-term effects on the lake. Would it?
posted by fandango_matt at 6:39 AM on November 1, 2007


More people should talk like that announcer.
Word. Ben Grauer - "in 1957 the animated Peacock logo made its debut, with a musical score by Lou Garisto and the voice was Ben Grauer! "The following program is brought to you in Living Color on N B C." Indeed it was Grauer who first spoke these now famous words behind the legendary Peacock graphic logo."
posted by tellurian at 6:41 AM on November 1, 2007


Uranium is a naturally-occurring element in nature. Have some on your breakfast cereal.
posted by DU at 6:43 AM on November 1, 2007 [1 favorite]


Interesting 1958 article on a study of two alkaline lakes in Washington, including Lake Lenore: (PDF) The study period seems to have begun in 1949-1950, which is interesting.
posted by spock at 6:43 AM on November 1, 2007


fandango_matt: Sodium rarely occurs in the metallic form in nature, being found almost exclusively in compounds with other elements (sodium chloride, et cetera). It wasn't isolated in metallic form until 1807. So it's naturally-occuring, but not by itself.

As far as the long-term effects are concerned, I'm not sure - been a long time since chemisty class. Sodium is very, very happy to combine with other atoms, and... hm. Depending on how alkaline the lake would be, you might get some interesting distributions of caustic soda and other sodium-based compounds throughout it.
posted by mephron at 6:52 AM on November 1, 2007


Interesting 1958 article
Do you have to be registered? I've got one page of readable copyright and 18 of blank (but with thumbnails of what looks like formatted text).
posted by tellurian at 6:54 AM on November 1, 2007


Well, probably woulda been a hell of a lot of sodium hydroxide produced. Yikes.
posted by aramaic at 6:58 AM on November 1, 2007


fandango_matt: The answer to these sorts of questions usually depend on how much and how fast. Abrupt changes in water chemistry are usually more disruptive than long-term changes. Also while small changes in chemistry are often buffered by the system to reach equilibrium, large changes such as 20,000 lbs can overwhelm the system's capacity.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:58 AM on November 1, 2007


What would it have been used for during the war?
posted by rtha at 6:59 AM on November 1, 2007


The rest of it was dumped as incendinary bombs onto German and Japanese cities. Didn't do much for the fish in those lakes either.
posted by three blind mice at 6:59 AM on November 1, 2007


2Na + 2H20 -> 2NaOH + H2, right?
posted by Mach5 at 7:05 AM on November 1, 2007


skip and jump across the surface of the water as it spluttered and smoked

Another cool thing about a chunk of sodium is how it looks like a barnacle encrusted rock, but you can scoop into it with a spoon and the exposed part looks like silver metal.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:07 AM on November 1, 2007


My high school had part of the science lab badly damaged by some potassium that had been forgotten about. Eventually the medium it was stored in degraded and it finally went -boom-.
posted by aerotive at 7:35 AM on November 1, 2007


nice foley work with the asplosionz
posted by Fupped Duck at 7:46 AM on November 1, 2007 [1 favorite]


Damnit, I would have taken some of that sodium.
posted by tehloki at 7:53 AM on November 1, 2007


Another cool thing about a chunk of sodium is how it looks like a barnacle encrusted rock, but you can scoop into it with a spoon and the exposed part looks like silver metal.
Sorry, are we talking about the same thing? From my (long ago - over 35 years) memory, it was like a small chunk of flaky rock (no barnacle like extuberances). It was shaved quite easily with a scalpel. The chances of scooping it with a spoon were slim because it ran around the experimental dish at a prodigious rate.
Caveat: I know that chemical reactions don't change but my memory does.
Profit: A nice walk down memory lane.
posted by tellurian at 8:07 AM on November 1, 2007


knew a grad student who put a 1lb in a pond, it was very impressive. I do not know if the sodium was a problem but the Toluene it was stored; to prevent it from oxidizing when exposed to humidity in the atmosphere, was a problem. The grad student flunked stat thermo and had to go else where to finish his PhD.
posted by Rancid Badger at 8:12 AM on November 1, 2007


My high school chemistry teacher showed us an nth generation bootleg videotape of some guy (maybe another chemistry teacher?) tossing a chunk of sodium into a pond behind his house. That there's some good pedagogy.
posted by escabeche at 8:13 AM on November 1, 2007


tellurian: I think StickyCarpet is talking about those sodium chunks that are as big as a soda can. Those you can cut, slice, and scoop (yup, done that), but for Jeebus' sake do it under lots of paraffin oil.
posted by hangashore at 8:16 AM on November 1, 2007


escabeche: Sodium Party.
posted by hangashore at 8:19 AM on November 1, 2007


1958 article: try this one.
posted by spock at 8:35 AM on November 1, 2007


I love the style of newsreels. The voice, the music, why don't we have newsreels anymore? Aside from television, more sophisticated audiences, and all the other valid reasons? With all the free floating nostalgia and false nostalgia someone else must have thought 'let's bring back newsreels.'
posted by Grod at 8:43 AM on November 1, 2007


MIT students have an annual tradition of the sodium drop. The year I watched it they dumped about a pound off a bridge into the Charles River. It went foomph.
posted by Nelson at 8:49 AM on November 1, 2007


Grod writes "I love the style of newsreels. The voice, the music, why don't we have newsreels anymore? Aside from television, more sophisticated audiences, and all the other valid reasons? With all the free floating nostalgia and false nostalgia someone else must have thought 'let's bring back newsreels.'"

Can you imagine those done with the production and talent of a network like, say, MSNBC or Fox News? Cause that's what it would look like if done today.
posted by krinklyfig at 8:57 AM on November 1, 2007


tellurian, it's the same stuff. It's common to store sodium in oil so that it stays shiny. If you don't, the surface oxidizes to a white, fragile, barnacled coating. Sodium is so soft that it can easly be cut with a spoon. Small pieces of sodium skate on water on a cushion of hydrogen gas. The heat from the hydration reaction causes the hydrogen to ignite. Metallic sodium gives the flame it's chracteristic colour.

Mach5: that's exactly what happens when sodium hits water.
posted by bonehead at 9:14 AM on November 1, 2007


fandango_matt: it causes the water to go strongly basic near the metal. This can easily cause local fish kills, but it gets diluted and swept away very quickly, within minutes. As will all things like this, it's an exposure issue. How long are the organisms exposed. In high currents, like rivers, this can be almost instantaneous. In calm waters, like an undrained or slow-moving lake, a big sodium or lye spill cen sterilize the lake for an entire season.
posted by bonehead at 9:18 AM on November 1, 2007


Smaller quantities of more reactive alkali metals.
posted by Partial Law at 9:18 AM on November 1, 2007


Buy your own sodium (scroll down) and re-enact this event!
posted by blue_beetle at 9:38 AM on November 1, 2007


What would it have been used for during the war?


Manufacture of chlorine gas from salt (2NaCl -> 2Na + Cl2) comes to mind. Just a guess though.
posted by Orange Pamplemousse at 9:38 AM on November 1, 2007


During World War II, sodium was used to make synthetic rubber as a substitute for natural rubber supplies, which were controlled by the Japanese.
posted by Rancid Badger at 10:18 AM on November 1, 2007


How can I do this at Burning Man next year?

Can you even do things like this at Burning Man anymore?
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 10:47 AM on November 1, 2007


Damn it, Partial Law beat me to the Brainiac link, which I found astonishing when I first saw it.

I've often wondered what a rubidium or cesium cored bullet would do, then I shudder and push the concept from my mind. There are some things that the world doesn't need to experiment with.
posted by quin at 10:56 AM on November 1, 2007


Is there enough water to do something like this at burning man?
posted by schyler523 at 11:50 AM on November 1, 2007


My high school chemistry teacher was something of a pyro. When a thumb-sized chunk of sodium started to go bad he tossed it into the courtyard which had about a foot of snow covering it. Pillar of fire.
posted by scalefree at 12:38 PM on November 1, 2007


I'll bet a disk of sodium would make an interesting hockey puck...
posted by Tube at 4:12 PM on November 1, 2007


"A once lethal wartime chemical becomes a pyrotechnic display!"

Now watch the pretty destruction, Jimmy. Don't forget to cover your junk, though.

And what's with the patriotic music?
posted by dasheekeejones at 5:16 PM on November 1, 2007


The accompanying editorial is charmingly stupid. Dumping sodium metal into an alkali lake causes no harm at all.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:05 PM on November 1, 2007


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