You may well have heard about an incident at the University of Bristol, where a student inadvertently prepared some triacetone triperoxide (TATP). That’s a substance that I definitely won’t work with, but I haven’t done an entry on it in that category because of its unfortunate significance. No one is going to make a batch of FOOF at home, but TATP is another matter. It can be prepared from (reasonably) common chemicals, and thus is a favorite weapon of terrorist bombers the world over. Its main defect is its extreme sensitivity, which at least at one time earned it the nickname (in Arabic) of “Mother of Satan”. Here’s the Wikipedia page on acetone peroxides (there are several) if you want that on your browser history. Let there be no doubt: synthesizing and handling TATP in any sort of large quantity is an invitation to be killed without warning, and “large” kicks in quite early on the scale. High-energy compounds have no regard for the humans working with them; you’ll get more consideration from a hungry leopard, who at least might regard you as useful for his own ends.
When the Bristol story came out, it was hard to understand how someone wanders into making TATP, but this C&E News story has all the details. It was in the workup of a chlorite oxidation reaction done in acetone, and the original prep suggested adding a small amount of 30% hydrogen peroxide at the end to consume some yellow by-products (such as chlorine dioxide, which you’d rather not have around). The student tried it, and the yellow was still there, so he added some more. And some more, and some more. Without thinking, he got up to about 50 mL of peroxide, and on the workup, he noticed that he had a lot more organic phase material than he should have during the extraction. That, fortunately, was when the mental alarm went off – had he carried on and rota-vapped that stuff down, this story would doubtless have a much different ending. Theoretical yield was about 40g of TATP, which is too much by any reasonable person’s definition.
They called in the bomb squad, who did a controlled demolition, and that sounds like probably the right choice. If the TATP were diluted, it could probably be moved and then decomposed slowly, but the report is that the liquid was already becoming more viscous, so I can understand the caution. I wouldn’t volunteer to add the extra DI water to that sep funnel myself, much less any reducing agent. I’m very glad that no one was injured, and that this has perhaps called some attention (once again) to the fact that acetone and hydrogen peroxide do not live harmoniously.