Inventorying "Dangerous" Chemicals for the DHS

The DHS wants universities to inventory a long list of chemicals:

Unusual paranoia over chemical attack in the US takes many forms. It can be seen in a recent piece of trouble from the Department of Homeland Security, a long list of "chemicals of interest" it wishes to require all university settings to inventory.

"Academic institutions across the country claim they will have to spend countless hours and scarce resources on documenting very small amounts of chemicals in many different labs that are scattered across sometimes sprawling campuses," reported a recent Chemical & Engineering News, the publication of the American Chemical Society.

"For 104 chemicals on the list, the threshold is 'any amount.'"

[...]

If one has a little bit of background in chemical weapons synthesis, one can see DHS is possessed by the idea that terrorists might storm into universities and plunder chem labs for precursors to nerve gases.

Interesting stuff about specific chemicals in the article.

Posted on June 8, 2007 at 6:12 AM • 45 Comments

Comments

PaeniteoJune 8, 2007 6:57 AM

"terrorists might storm into universities and plunder chem labs"

I wonder if a detailed catalog of where to find which substances would not in fact aid the terrorists...

PaeniteoJune 8, 2007 7:00 AM

"terrorists might storm into universities and plunder chem labs"

Wouldn't a detailed catalog in fact help them with this cause?

David HarperJune 8, 2007 7:06 AM

Apparently, hydrogen sulphide is one of the chemicals on the list, and any amount, however small, must be notified to the DHS.

So the DHS wants to know every time that someone farts in a chemistry lab :-)

Clive RobinsonJune 8, 2007 7:29 AM

So as a terorist I get the list then google to find out the other info I need to make some interesting stuff...

How about green potatoes and high nicotien chewing gum, are they on the list?

NKTJune 8, 2007 7:52 AM

As said above, this can only help those who would do us harm, either by giving them a list of where to find things, or a list to start prosecutions from when things go wrong - and you can define "going wrong" as having finished a bottle of lab reagent in a school chemistry lab, because then the list is wrong.

Half the time, I think those in power simply do this because they want to see how far they can push before someone says something.

Geoff LaneJune 8, 2007 8:00 AM

Wouldn't it be better to require the suppliers of chemicals to report sales? There are far fewer wholesale suppliers than customers so the costs would be kept low and accurate numbers would be more likely.

I'm no terrorist but I would probably try and use some common chemical available everywhere for just a few dollars a gallon to build a fuel-air explosive rather than some complex scheme using toxic materials.

I guess this response puts me on some list somewhere in Washington. Hi Guys!

altjiraJune 8, 2007 8:03 AM

How about ammonia and bleach? When is DHS going to come around, inventorying our laundry rooms? Not no mention iodine, salt substitute or swimming pool chlorinators.

Taco BuitenhuisJune 8, 2007 8:37 AM

Such a list would make more sense if chemicals that can easily be found outside labs (such as H2S) are removed or only to be inventoried when stored in unusual amounts.

But then again aren't chemicals that are more dangerous than usual, hard to acquire, or both, already inventoried and stored in a place where it would be difficult to steal them?

I know, the DHS wants to know what places to watch for terrorists preparing an attack. But how much sense does it make to make an already difficult type of attack slightly more difficult? Especially production of nerve gas is an unlikely terrorist plot, because of the high risk of accidentally killing oneself without harming many others.

If the DHS is going to send a list to labs anyway, wouldn't one of possibly suspicious behaviors to watch out for be better? Who knows what kind of creative plan a terrorist may have, and what previously thought to be unusable chemicals they might need for it? After all even a smoke bomb is effective if it's big enough and thrown into traffic to cause a pile-up...

DHS = Department of Hydrogen Sulphide?

David HarperJune 8, 2007 9:09 AM

@Taco Buitenhuis

"DHS = Department of Hydrogen Sulphide?"

No, DHS = deuterium hydrogen sulphide. There's an extra neutron in there, but for heaven's sake, don't tell the Department of Homeland Security that you're brewing neutron-enriched bad-eggs gas :-)

Not DHSJune 8, 2007 9:29 AM

Is this the list?

http://www.dhs.gov/xprevprot/laws/gc_1175537180929.shtm

It's missing as much as it contains. How about dimethylmercury, which actually killed an academic researcher?

I agree that buying chemicals is a much lower profile technique than staging a university raid. Perhaps DHS thinks students will enroll, take 3 years of chemistry, and then decide to steal a bottle or two. This isn't even a movie plot, nobody would film this nutty idea.

RoyJune 8, 2007 10:46 AM

The list, when finally completed, would be helpful when you run out of white-out and need to know the nearest desk which has some.

Other than that ... no.

Chris EJune 8, 2007 10:58 AM

Interesting, you need a ton of Uranium Hexafluoride before it needs to be documented. I wonder if Iran has told the DHS about their stockpiles for uranium enrichment.

merkelcellcancerJune 8, 2007 11:08 AM

Imagine you are so geeky that you carry a small card in your wallet or god forbid on your laptop hard drive that contains the chemical table of elements. You are passing through TSA at any domestic airport in the USA. Does that make you suspect?

http://www.chemicalelements.com/

gregJune 8, 2007 11:14 AM

This types of lists run on the mistaken belief that if the can't get there hands on the chemial from the ususall source then they can't get the chemical.

Its also a bad trade off since the cost far outweight the benifits.

And this is assuming its a well informend List. Which this one is not. (They should put DHMO on the list http://www.dhmo.org/)

What is really interesting is that i can still go down to the Gas station and by X gallons of gasoline.....

Chris EJune 8, 2007 11:49 AM

re: merkelcellcancer

Maybe not a suspect now, but I'd get worried when they ban possession of a MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets) binder.

guvn'rJune 8, 2007 11:51 AM

LMAO @greg - we really should sic the press on DHS for not including DHMO on the list, if we're lucky they might even get on Congress and the Prez for ignoring the dangers as well...
if we're really really lucky it will go far enough to be a good object lesson, but I'd bet the point will be missed even if it does go that far.

FooDooHackedYouJune 8, 2007 12:04 PM

There goes the Chemistry labs at my old school ;) Come on now... there has to be a better balance between security and learning. Chemistry experiments are too much fun to ban.

FooDooHackedYouJune 8, 2007 12:08 PM

Plus, anyone can cook up munitions with household chemicals using at least one book that I won't mention (plus various online sources too I would imagine)...

AirBreatherJune 8, 2007 12:24 PM

"Any amount"?????
Could anything be more ridiculous?
I'm guessing that virtually any chemical you can name is present in some amount, in parts per billion, or parts per trillion, in the gallon or so of air I have in my lungs at this moment. Does that make me a terrorist? Do I need to register this particular lungful? How about the next one?

ChrisJune 8, 2007 12:51 PM

How is this different from the state-mandated requirement my high school chem lab had 20 years ago? I even sold my old Apple //e to my teacher because he needed an Apple to run the software that was used to inventory the stuff.

masJune 8, 2007 2:36 PM

Hehe, reminds me of these (already long in use) "end use declarations" that sometimes appear when you order a chemical. Interestingly often for chemicals where you wonder why this is on the list.
And then these lists are of course treated as what they are - a useless nuissance. So the name and other info is very fast and not very legibly written on it and then as the end use something like "J. Med. Chem. 7 (1987) 234", which must sure be very useful for whoever wants to check it up. Would any government agency want to check this filed away rubbush they would have to pay ca. $25 bucks per article just to get something they have to forward to an expert to even understand what the guy writing out the declaration has really done with the stuff. LOL* Very efficient. So we can be sure this material is collected but never actually used.
Just as it is likely gonna be for these new records as well. I mean, even if these records would be actually filled out correct - it takes a few weeks and its all outdated anyway.

No one importantJune 8, 2007 3:28 PM

While I see that sodium hydroxide (lye) isn't on this list, I had an interesting exprience the last time I wanted to buy a few pounds of it for a soapmaking project.

Good old "Red Devil Lye" drain opener has been pulled from the shelves lest people use it for making meth-- the company was pressured into dropping the product! And now one must give one's contact information and show id when purchasing lye from the few folks who still sell it so the government can track who is buying it.

The thing is, you can still buy lye-containing drain openers, they just have metal filings in them (and are therefore useless for soap-making). But one would think that those are not as gentle on the pipes as plain lye would be for removing a greasy clog.

MarkJune 8, 2007 3:54 PM

"So the DHS wants to know every time that someone farts in a chemistry lab :-)"
You might need to tell them twice, once for the Hydrogen sulfide and once for the Methyl mercaptan.
It's also strange that it's apparently ok to have a quantity of HF, but not any other hydrogen halide.
Also that Tungsten hexafluoride is apparentlu more dangerous than Uranium hexafluoride.
Oddly the list has Phosphorus oxychloride, Phosphorus pentachloride and Phosphorus trichloride.

You can also have up to two thousand pounds each of Nitrocellulose and Nitroglycerine. Other high explosives not even on the list... Presumably you can cook up as much TNT as you like, so long as you never have more than a ton of nitric acid around at anyone time.

MarkJune 8, 2007 4:06 PM

"The thing is, you can still buy lye-containing drain openers, they just have metal filings in them (and are therefore useless for soap-making). But one would think that those are not as gentle on the pipes as plain lye would be for removing a greasy clog."
If someone wants them for the NaOH content they could always use a filter...

Triethanolamine is apparently on the list because it could in theory be used to create chemical weapons. But is present in many cosmetic products. According to Wikipedia "This ingredient is used as a pH balancer in cosmetic preparations in a variety of different products - ranging from skin lotion, eye gels, moisturizers, shampoos, shaving foams etc."

simongabrielJune 8, 2007 4:39 PM

What I want to know is whether the DHS needs to be updated everytime the quantities change.

"Hello, DHS. Our Chem 104 lab just used up x amount of chemical y. Two more classes today, so expect more calls. Thanks for keeping us safe!"

MarkJune 8, 2007 4:55 PM

In my experience at the University of California, each lab generates a complete chemical inventory for EPA/OSHA compliance. So one question is, regardless of the merits of their watchlist, why doesn't the DHS go through the existing beaurocracy rather than contacting the universities directly?

Christoph ZurniedenJune 8, 2007 8:11 PM

So, according to the list at http://www.dhs.gov/xprevprot/laws/gc_1175537180929.shtm it is OK to store up to one ton of nitroglycerin but a small paper-warfare is needed for any amount of nitric oxide? (Wikipedia has a short description at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nitric_oxide)

This list looks like an attempt to hide a short list of very specific dangerous substances in a long list of unspecific dangerous substances (the latter probably shamlessly stolen from HazMat), just as the author assumed. This list will make it more difficult to produce some types of nerve gas than before but the amount of "more" is ridiciously small.

Who are the people who produce such nonsense like this list? The same companies that sell anti-virus-software?

CZ

MarkJune 9, 2007 3:47 AM

"So, according to the list at http://www.dhs.gov/xprevprot/laws/gc_1175537180929.shtm it is OK to store up to one ton of nitroglycerin but a small paper-warfare is needed for any amount of nitric oxide?"

The only liquid usually measured in pounds is jet fuel, which isn't on the list. Liquids are generally measured by volume. It's also quite possible that a chemistry lab in a US university would use SI units. Especially if they ever want to work with chemists from anywhere else on the planet.

HermanJune 9, 2007 5:55 AM

Since everyone including the DHS likes H2S a lot, I will post a simple way to produce it. No phosphorous pentasulfide needed, it's much simpler:

Melt wax. Stir in some sulfur. Heat it a little more. H2S is produced. Every chemist (at least in my corner of the world) knows that, because here you're forced to endure inorganic analytic chemistry lab during the first semester (a method to weed out the wannabees and clueless), and H2S is needed all the time. Which is often produced by heating such a little ball of wax and sulfur in a test tube.

Does anyone have the Al Kai'duh contact information so I can submit this procedure for the next edition of the mujahedeen handbook?

J.June 9, 2007 6:04 AM

"Another compound in the "any amount" catch all is hydrogen sulfide, the toxic gas that smells like rotten eggs."

Funny, given I have a metabolic disorder which sometimes leads to me getting burps and farts which smell like rotten eggs or a swamp. Only happens when I eat certain foods in high amounts, but still. I believe its rather certain amino acids (or proteins in general) which are rotting which is what we describe as 'rotten egg smell'. I've had this smell produced without having eaten any chicken eggs so it isn't tied to chicken eggs, but chicken eggs are one type of food indeed high in amino acids with sulfur chain and/or proteins.

NickoJune 9, 2007 6:09 AM

Given the level of scientific effort that went into compiling the list I'm surprised that they are not more concerned with dihydrogen monoxide. It's easily available yet it is poisonous, can straight-forwardly be broken down into an explosive gas and a powerful oxidising agent and is also an essential reagent in numerous other nefarious chemical reactions. It was even used in some of the movie-plot threats posted on this blog recently. What's more, the military-industrial complex surrounding dihydrogen monoxide supply is also responsible for the distribution of over one million tons of radioactive deuterium into American homes every year! We should demand that it is added to the list!

hermanJune 9, 2007 8:14 AM

Most of you people are obviously not chemists or similar scientists, otherwise you wouldn't be surprised about this kind of regulation. The amount of red tape and paperwork involved when dealing with certain chemicals has been enormous for years already, mainly due to the war on drugs. Everyone can still purchase a whole lot of listed chemicals easily, yet when you try to purchase the same chemicals from a chemical supplier shitloads of paperwork is involved. H2SO4 and acetone are great examples for this lunacy. You need to sign end user declarations and what not when you want to buy that stuff even when diluted, but you can easily buy battery acid and even concentrated H2SO4 and e.g. nail polish remover over the counter, without ID, no questions asked. I know of people that have been prosecuted for having acetone, hydrochloric acid and H2O2 in their posession. Guess they were unlucky the labels carried the chemical names instead of nail polish remover, driveway cleaner and wound disinfectant...
Stuff that is still being sold under certain brand names as industrial cleaners and was widely sold just a few years ago might nowadays get you incarcerated when you still own a bottle of them. Having a bottle labeled "Acetone, reagent grade" from a reputable supplier is suspicous, the same material bought as paint diluent and brush cleaner isn't. Triethanolamine is a common ingredient in oven cleaner sprays and certain epoxy resins, yet ordering a bottle will cause you to be investigated. The level of stupidity among government officials is breathtaking, and the dumbing down of society and general chemophobia is steadily progressing.

ExChemistJune 9, 2007 11:00 AM

@herman

"Most of you people are obviously not chemists or similar scientists"

Speak for yourself. Yea there are a lot of regulations and some even make sence (you wouldn't want 1 ton of HNO3 leaking down the drain even at 1 mol/l) . Every now and agian they want to add a lot more regulations. And every time I shout about why its stupid.

Dam in NZ they tried to put NaCl in the same group as KCN!!! Then someone pointed out that we use it cooking!!

I have found a good way around some of the regulation. Buy a lot. Yep lab supliers need to follow all sorts of rules. But the industral supplers have a different set of rules and are usally easer. Example. I wanted H2O2 for a hobby rocket. Lab suppler 30% and $40 for 1 liter + permits needed. Industrial suppler, 25Kg @ 50% (200 volume) $80 and no permits. They ask about how much i store since over 100 Kg i need to have a proper storage room and the fire deparments need to know about it. Red fuming HNO3 is also sold like this... LOX is easy once you need a truck load (10 Tons) and its cheap, however YMMV since this was not america.

"The level of stupidity among government officials is breathtaking, and the dumbing down of society and general chemophobia is steadily progressing."

The green party in NZ demanded a investigation into dihydrogen monoxide. (See above)

MarkJune 9, 2007 11:25 AM

"Dam in NZ they tried to put NaCl in the same group as KCN!!! Then someone pointed out that we use it cooking!!"
Wonder how they wanted to classify KCl or for that matter NaCN...

Filias CupioJune 10, 2007 7:24 PM

Nicko: Deuterium isn't radioactive.
ExChemist: One Green party candidate got suckered by the DHMO joke, suggesting it be investigated. This is very different from the party demanding an investigation (although still embarassing.)

phred14June 10, 2007 8:02 PM

Anyone here own a swimming pool?

I'm just glad none of my chemicals showed up on the list, and feeling lucky about that. Shortly after getting the pool I was trying to look up information on "shock'n'swim"-type products, and one such chemical is potassium monopersulfate. One of the first pages I got to was a complete list of swimming pool chemicals - and bomb-making instructions using those chemicals. (Swimming pool chemicals do tend to be energetic.) Given that this was shortly after 9/11 I got off the page quickly, lest "dwell time" be noted. (Terrible to even be thinking this way.)

So I'm glad to see things like calcium or sodium hypochlorite NOT on the list. (It doesn't seem that "hypochlorite" or even "chlorite" appears on the list at all.) I just picked up a bunch yesterday for opening the pool.

ShadJune 10, 2007 9:50 PM

Easier way to make hydrogen sulfide: Use iron sulfide (available as a mineral, eg. pyrrhotite or troilite, or can be made of iron and elementary sulfur). Immerse it in hydrochloric (muriatic) acid or in diluted sulfuric acid. Watch the bubbles and enjoy the smell. We used it for the classical hydrogen-sulfide way of separating and determining cations, made it as needed in a Kipp's apparatus.

Wondering how long it will take until merely the skill of reading and interpreting organic chemistry formulas will turn one into a suspect.

phred14: Dwell time on the page is typically not reported by a browser; only the visit is, as it causes a HTTP GET request to the server. (It *can* be done, using eg. javascript onunload call, but these are relatively rare in the wild - at least used for other purposes than popping up advertising windows in eg. pornados.) Within the same site, it can be determined by the difference of subsequent page requests, but the duration of the page view of the last page request within the site can't be determined from the server logs.

X the UnknownJune 11, 2007 4:54 AM

@No one important:

Can't you make your own lye by steeping wood-ashes in water?

X the UnknownJune 11, 2007 5:00 AM

@Mark: "The only liquid usually measured in pounds is jet fuel, which isn't on the list. Liquids are generally measured by volume."

For highly-reactive liquids (like gasoline), the available energy is better calculated by mass (basically, weight), because many (like gasoline) expand or contract significantly, based on temperature.

You actually do get more "miles per gallon" if you buy gasoline on a cold day, rather than a hot one.

ExChemistJune 11, 2007 5:13 AM

@Filias Cupio

It seems you are correct (about the NZ green party). I can't find the orginal article in the NZ hearld that is was "quoting from memory".

But other articles about the incident even suggest that it was a admin error. However if you realized your mistake what would you say? I sure as hell won't admit it. And this is the NZ green party, were up untill quite recently one of there more public politicions openly smoked Dope despite that the fact that its illigeal, and he was in "office" at the time.....

David ConradJune 11, 2007 5:28 PM

"Imagine you are so geeky that you carry a small card in your wallet ... [with] the [periodic] table of elements."

So am I a geek, then? Hmm. Is the atomic weight of cobalt 58.9? (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0097428/quotes#qt0175667)

Also:

Azzam was a terrorist. Azzam is no more. What Azzam thought was H20 was H2SO4.

Sorry. Had to be said. :-)

WooJune 13, 2007 7:34 AM

This list is really great.. I guess we all start documenting now. There's just too many compounds on this "any amount" list that everybody owns, produces or consumes every day... sulfur compounds in flatulences, carbon monoxide from the car or oven, fluoride compounds in toothpaste or cooking salts..
I'd say this list is missing one important line... "Entries with 'any amount' refer to storage of 10lbs and up".. which would make the whole endeavour much more sensible and much less a burden on institutions.

Peter E TeperJune 13, 2007 2:51 PM

UNIVERSITY NAMED KNOWLEDGE
LINKED TO TERRORISM

The Department of Homeland Security [DHS] today disclosed that they have identified one element that gives terrorists what they need to amplify the power of the individual terrorist, and is needed to perform every terror activity, in one way or another, and that one element that is a common link is: knowledge. Therefore, all the Universities in and around America are being asked to index and register all possessors of knowledge, and to detail to whom exactly what knowledge is and has been imparted. "We aren't looking for any original discoveries here," said an unnamed DHS spokesperson.
"The same forms that are used to index and register Chemicals of Interest will readily be adapted for this purpose."

As for Community Colleges and private or other trade schools, "The amount of knowledge leaking out through those systems seems quite limited. It would take some unknown 'X' factor to make it useable to terrorists," said the same DHS spokesperson. "Our best expert administrators and bureaucrats are actively trying to determine what exactly that X factor is. We will tell you as soon as we identify it."

At the same press conference, DHS announced that it had just discovered that many people are using fictitious names, even in public, and that lists of these suspicious names have appeared in newspapers, under the code signal DBA. These names are open to be read by potential terrorists or anyone else. "All fictitious names are being added to the no-fly list. We do not allow fictitious people to fly on airplanes."

When asked for further clarification, the DHS said that also, "Anyone who reserves or buys a ticket but does not board that same airplane will be presumed to be fictitious and added to the no-fly list." When further asked if another person of the same name would be allowed to fly, DHS said that, "Just as we have put on no-fly lists anyone whose name appears to have boarded or be on two seprate planes at the same time. Clearly, one or both is fictitious. If you are an honest patriot, you would not lend your name to concealing a fictitious person's identity."

Asked about the ramifications of this new tactic, DHS further declared, "We are going to increase staffing to hunt down, arrest, and deport all fictitious persons. We believe that fictitious aliens should be a major thrust of our investigations, and millions of hours will be devoted to catching fictitious persons. For example, the large number of people staying in downtown motels named Smith and Jones exceeds the number of real persons of that name, and must also be fictitious, terrorists, or worse. The problem of catching fictitious individuals, who number in the millions, is so huge it could become our new number one priority."

Even the entertainment industry may be involved. "We see claims for millions in an audience when not one person in our office has listened to or seen the show in question. Clearly this represents at least hundreds of thousands of fictitious persons. Even Celebrities are rumored to use fictitious names on occasion. This must stop. The Constitution in no way protects fictitious persons."

"There are even rumors that certain corporations, as a matter of routine practice, appear to support the identity of strangely named fictitious individuals. It seems to be a problem in every jurisdiction of America. It is time DHS stepped in and took over the pursuit and elimination of all fictitious individuals from our society. Fictitious names are even hidden in children’s books. In fact we are reliably told a large section of almost every library is devoted to books and films filled with fictitious names. This supplying of fictitious names to terrorists must cease. It is a matter of national security."

A bill requiring a unique and valid biometric birth certificate for each phone number is currently also being considered. “We don’t want phone books to supply fictitious names to terrorists. Once we eliminate all fictitious names, only real names will be used. Then we can bar terrorists from flying effectively and they will be easy to trace.��?

Meanwhile, a 'sting' operation is being launched. DHS will send out unmarked envelopes containing letters of inquiry modeled after the US census form to every household, addressed to OCCUPANT, marked with no return address.

"Those named residents that do not reply will be added to the Suspected Fictitious Names list, which, after three months, if not by then corrected, will be added to the no-fly list," said the DHS spokesperson. The clearly nervous DHS spokesperson refused to give a personal name for attribution, citing security concerns, and adding, "Call me Silly, but we don't give out names, we want to prohibit all open access to the names of others."
- (c) and by permission of Anon Amous 2007 All Rights Reserved

AnonymousMarch 18, 2008 2:30 AM

give five examples of dangerous chemical reactions,when using household chemicals.your answer must include the type of toxic gas realised.e.g.reacting acids with bleach,results inthe realise of chlorine gas.

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