I was looking at inorganic substances that are liquid at ordinary temperature and pressure, and I’m struck by how incredibly dangerous they are. If you except halogenated hydrocarbons and their polymers – many of which, like Teflon, are amazingly benign, but some of which, like carbon tetrachloride, are toxic and carcinogenic – just about all the rest are not merely dangerous, but spectacularly dangerous. They’re not merely reactive, but corrosive, not merely energetic, but explosive. They don’t just react with water, they react violently. They’re highly flammable, and sometimes excruciatingly stenchy.
All the ocychlorides are dangerous. They cause blistering and can cause edema if you inhale them. A spill of 2 milliliters (that’s the amount in one of those teeny containers of Crazy Glue) once caused the evacuation of a building.
Carbon disulfide is incredibly flammable and incredibly stinky. Ratchet it up by one on the periodic table and you get cadmium sulfide, whose stench is sickness-inducing. A spill of cad sulfide once caused the evacuation of an entire town in Germany. An inorganic chemist put it on his website of Things I Won’t Work With. Tellurium compounds are worse.
Most others seem to be explosive. The liquids fume when first made, reacting with water vapor in the air.
Mercury is the most benign that I’ve found – but even mercury will eventually kill you. Nobody wants to be anywhere near free mercury, and they call out the toxic waste squads if they find any.
the old science fiction canard about silicon-based life (because silicon, one step down in the periodic table from carbon, is so similar to carbon chemically) doesn’t pan out. You don’t want to get any silicon-based analogies to hydrocarbons that are liquid at room temperature anmywhere near water. They’ll react or explode.
I mentioned this to some people, and they said that was just selecting my cases. But I’m not. Aside from the halogenated compounds notred above, every single inorganic liquid at room temperature is pretty damned nasty.
Why? I could understand if 90% of chemicals were dangerous, or even 95%. But it’s well over 99%, from what I can find, that are simply too dangerous to want to be around. This isn’t the case with hydrocarbons =-- I can spend time with the alcohols. They’re flammable, but not deadly. Toluene, acetone, other random liquids. The esters are flavorings, and generally smel pretty good. Oils of all kinds are benign.
So why are inorganics so dangerous?