In the Pipeline is my favorite chemistry blog. He has a regular series called “Things I won’t work with” in which he describes chemicals so dangerous the even he (as a professional chemist) won’t allow in his lab. In his most recent installment he describes a chemical so foul smelling that it made is forbidden list on that basis alone. Here he names Hell’s Dumpster:
My recent entries in this category have, for the most part, been hazardous in a direct (not to say crude, or even vulgar) manner. These are compounds that explode with bizarre violence even in laughably small amounts, leaving ruined equipment and shattered nerves in their wake. No, I will not work with such.
But today’s compound makes no noise and leaves no wreckage. It merely stinks. But it does so relentlessly and unbearably. It makes innocent downwind pedestrians stagger, clutch their stomachs, and flee in terror. It reeks to a degree that makes people suspect evil supernatural forces. It is thioacetone.
Or something close to it, anyway. All we know for sure is that thioacetone doesn’t like to exist as a free compound – it’s usually tied up in a cyclic thioketal trimer, when it’s around at all. Attempts to crack this to thioacetone monomer itself have been made – ah, but that’s when people start diving out of windows and vomiting into wastebaskets, so the quality of the data starts to deteriorate. No one’s quite sure what the actual odorant is (perhaps the gem-dimercaptan?) And no one seems to have much desire to find out, either.
Interesting research for some brave and ollifactory challenged soul.
If you haven’t read the rest of the things in the list, you should. It’s especially frightening to know there is a chemical that sets sand on fire and eats through asbestos fire brick.