The rotten egg smell from the fake goods industry

The rotten egg smell from the fake goods industry

Stink bomb in the mailbox! There was an opened bag on the doormat. It was not meant personally, the neighbors had also received one, the stench had even reached the top floor there. A gas leak was the first thought.

But, no, a resident chemist knew, gas smells like mercaptan. This smelled bad hydrogen sulfideH2S, say hydrogen sulphide, he recognized the smell of the Kipp appliance he once used to prepare it. “You dropped hydrochloric acid on chunks of sulfuric iron and then the H came out2S free by itself. If the fume hood did not draw properly, you would go home with a headache in the evening.” But there was actually no one to listen to him.

The bag from the doormat (‘Fart Bomb – Boom’) was quickly found on the internet. Bol.com offered seven bags for 7.49 euros and was very critical of the rotten egg smell they gave off. “Great for fooling someone.”

Throw it on the ground

So I ordered seven bags and had three glass ampoules delivered for 4.70 euros that did the same trick. The sachets – ‘Please do not put in mouth’ – came from China, but the ampoules were Spanish. It contained a solution of ‘sodio sulfhidrato’, which means sodium hydrogen sulphide (NaSH). The ampoules would break if you threw them on the ground, but if you didn’t, you could still kick them. Then the gas was released automatically.

The bags work differently. It contains a yellow substance from which H2S is released when you squeeze an enclosed plastic pad with acid. The yellow stuff is a mixture of sodium bicarbonate (baking powder) and ammonium sulfide. The sulfide produces the smelly H2S, the acid makes so much CO from the bicarbonate2 free from the plastic bag breaking open at a weld seam. Or not, because not all bol.com bags worked. You also had to give that a kick.

Not a bad word about the smell, it keeps its promise, although there is the impression that rotten eggs smell different. In any case, the sulfur smell lingers on the clothes and in the nose for a strangely long time.

Toxic in high concentrations

A curmudgeon might wonder whether it is desirable for bol.com and similar stores to sell items that release a gas that is poisonous in high concentrations. H2S is considered hardly less dangerous than hydrogen cyanide gas. But the joke industry, which has its roots in the nineteenth century, is not easily concerned about the side effects of its entertainment. Facial injuries from exploding cigars were taken for granted. Until the 1980s, sneeze powder, a spin-off from the snuff culture, contained the dangerous alkaloid veratrine, which comes from the white sneeze root (Veratrum album) comes. Until the 1940s, itching powder consisted of the fruit hairs of the tropical velvet tree (Mucuna pruriens, cowitch). They often cause an allergic skin reaction and have now been replaced by rosehip hairs. To conclude the list, carbon disulphide (carbon disulphide) was used for a while to make the funny ice water. That is also toxic in high concentrations, but who cared when there was so much fun to be had with it.

People at bol.com probably don’t have the slightest idea what the dangers are of the chemicals that go out. Potassium nitrate is also supplied without hesitation. But as far as the stink bombs are concerned, Bol may of course have thought that they were too small to contain dangerous amounts of H2S to produce.

This way we playfully end up at the infamous ‘poison ship’ Probo Koala. The last time was in March 2016. The Probo Koala was the tanker that delivered more than 500 tons of heavily polluted waste, so-called slops, delivered it for processing in the port of Abidjan (Ivory Coast) and gave it to a fraud company that simply let it run into the ditch here and there or pump it over a garbage dump. The slops had been created at sea in an improvised process that reduced the sulfur content of a batch of cheap naphtha. Sodium hydroxide with some additives had been pumped through the naphtha and it contained many sulfur-containing compounds H2S and mercaptans) and also some phenols were dissolved. All those substances stink.

Soon ditches and garbage dumps gave off such a stench that a popular uprising broke out, causing problems for the local authorities. Radio stations urged people to report to a hospital, where paracetamol and aspirin were provided, and authorities soon reported the first Koala deaths.

Meticulously mapped out

The disgraceful state of affairs has been admirably meticulously mapped out by Greenpeace and others NRC has reported on this. But the newspaper did not agree with the conclusion that there had actually been deaths. There was no evidence for this: the authority and insight of the local authorities appeared to be nil, autopsy reports were unusable and it seemed chemically unlikely that lethal concentrations of H2S or mercaptan had emerged. These have never been demonstrated, not even in simulations. Not unimportant: no dead animals have ever been found around the slops. A team of experts later determined that the slops could have at most caused flu-like symptoms.

But Greenpeace and its supporters did not allow the deaths to be taken from them, they were the icing on their cake, and it turned out to be a very unsavory affair in which even a judge eventually expressed his annoyance (‘incorrect facts stated’).

It all came back to mind when we were kicking those bags and ampoules apart last week. Just like the H2S himself, by the way. Because that is a new insight that was useful at the time: how quickly the gas diffuses. In no time it will be in the corners of the house. This also had an effect in Abidjan.




SCIENCE