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A few of my classmates and I are preparing a demonstration lab for our college chemistry class. We want to do the “carbon snake” where nitro aniline and sulfuric acid is heated to 392 degrees Fahrenheit but we can’t find how to properly dispose of the tower that is formed. We know that the gases formed can go out the fume hood but don’t know about the remains. Our teacher won’t let use preform the experiment unless we get answers. Thanks
Question Date: 2014-03-05
Answer 1:

It's very important to think about both experimental safety and responsible disposal of chemicals, so I'm glad your teacher is asking you to research this for your demonstration.

If this is for a college class (and the demonstration is at the college), it's possible that the college has an Environmental Health and Safety Department (EH&S ) that can help you take the steps to properly dispose of hazardous materials. If so, you should find them online and contact them.

If your college doesn't have this or the demonstration is being done at your high school, then there are a few things you have to think about. First, you have to worry about how to properly store or dispose of the precursor chemicals, sulfuric acid and the nitroaniline. Perhaps these chemicals belong to the high school or college and you are just borrowing some for your experiment. Then, you just need to make sure that they are stored separately and that you have studied the Materials Safety Data Sheets (MSDS). Otherwise, the disposal for these chemicals is nontrivial and may prevent you from doing this demonstration.

If all you need to worry about is the column, then this is a bit easier. According to a webpage from UC San Diego's chemistry department, where they describe a similar experiment (they use sugar as the carbon source instead of nitroaniline), they say regarding cleanup:

"The graphite column is saturated with sulfuric acid. It should be placed in a bucket of water and the whole thing neutralized with sodium bicarbonate. Then it can be dumped down the sink. (Alternatively just double bag the whole thing including the beaker and give it to EH&S)."

click here to read

The structure of the column itself is just carbon, so once the acid is neutralized, it's safe to put any solid parts into the trash. I would still double bag it as an added precaution. The beaker is probably ruined, so place that in a sharps disposal container if you have one. Otherwise, double wrap it in brown bags to protect sanitation workers from being cut and place it directly in a dumpster.

Happy experimenting!

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