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Home Chemistry An Endangered Hobby in U.S. 627

Posted by timothy
from the busybody-nannystate-nincompoops dept.
Disoculated writes "Wired is running an article entitled "Don't Try This at Home" discussing how that increasing paranoia about terrorism and liability is making it nearly impossible to become involved in any chemistry related hobby in the United States. Sure, the innovative will try to work around these types of limitations, but are we teaching our kids to be afraid of science?"
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Home Chemistry An Endangered Hobby in U.S.

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  • good morning ! (Score:3, Informative)

    by jesusfingchrist (853886) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @07:26AM (#15443371) Homepage
    From TFA :

    Suddenly police officers and men in camouflage swarmed up the path, hoisting a battering ram. "Come out with your hands up immediately, Miss White!" one of them yelled through a megaphone, while another handcuffed the physicist in his underwear. Recalling that June morning in 2003, Lazar says, "If they were expecting to find Osama bin Laden, they brought along enough guys."

    The target of this operation, which involved more than two dozen police officers and federal agents, was not an international terrorist ring but the couple's home business, United Nuclear Scientific Supplies, a mail-order outfit that serves amateur scientists, students, teachers, and law enforcement professionals.

  • Re:Awww =( (Score:3, Informative)

    by Joff_NZ (309034) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @07:40AM (#15443420) Homepage Journal
    It's what some some countries (UK, Australia, New Zealand) call year 11 (11th grade?) of schooling.
  • by Flying pig (925874) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @07:57AM (#15443480)
    Speaking as a former technical director and designer of chemical plant, for the sort of quantities and hazards that home experiments produce fume extraction would NOT cost tens of thousands of dollars. You can home build a garage extractor system for a few hundred dollars (and if you work on cars it is useful for extracting e.g. degreaser fumes) which has enough capacity and exhaust velocity to handle solvents.

    You can in fact go out and buy caustics (sodium hydroxide, calcium hydroxide) from the local hardware store, supermarket or builder's merchant. You can accidentally create chlorine gas quite easily using common household products. You can buy lethal poisons almost anywhere. It would be BETTER if more people had practical chemical experience because at the moment Joe Public is mostly totally unaware of the risks he runs. He is afraid of "acid" because he does not know that acidity alone is harmless. He is unafraid of bleach, caustics, solvents, and any alkali which comes in a brightly coloured plastic box. And your solution is?

  • Re:great article (Score:2, Informative)

    by ccarson (562931) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @08:08AM (#15443541)
    Maybe now, considering the heightened tension, it wouldn't be the best idea to mix chems in your basement. If chemistry was your hobby and authorities did begin questioning you about your past time, it may help to back up your work with documentation and your membership to the local chem club. Definitely, don't start mixing chems that make bomb making substances. In the end, if worst comes to worse, you could argue your case in front of a jury comprised of citizens like yourself. As flawed as our court system may be, at least you can present your case to peers in hopes they will understand your passion.
  • Re:Awww =( (Score:2, Informative)

    by the_doctor_23 (945852) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @08:23AM (#15443624)
    Thats why thermite is AlO and Fe(s) powders mixed together, not just Fe ground up by itself.

    Actually, thermite is a mixture of iron oxide and aluminium powder...
  • by patchvonbraun (837509) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @08:32AM (#15443669)
    Speaking as someone who uses "those types of chemicals" in my home workshop all the time,
        I have to disagree.

    Life comes with risks, and rational adults learn to deal with and mitigate those risks.
        We wear bicycle helmets while bicycling, have a garden hose on hand when we have a
        bonfire, etc, etc.

    United Nuclear, like Skylighter, Firefox, Iowa Pyro Supply, and many others, supplies chemicals
        to amateur and professional pyrotechnicists all over the world, and to a lesser extent, the more
        generic "home chemist type".

    The article casts chemicals like "perchlorate" in the light of "makes bombs", which is misleading.
        Yes, perchlorate can be used to make bombs, but it's also the main ingredient in a large number
        of other pyrotechnic effects which *don't* go boom. In many places in the U.S., home manufacture,
        for personal use, of fireworks is entirely legal. Check out respected organizations like the
        PGI (Pyrotechnics Guild International), who have hundreds of members in the U.S., and who regularly
        put on a large exhibit of home-manufactured fireworks.

    The government, and the lay public, are increasingly of the opinion that anyone who does anything
        after work other than chug a Pabst and watch their 57 channels of dreck is a terrorist, or
        about-to-be terrorist. Which is a sad state indeed...
  • Re:Digg + 2days (Score:1, Informative)

    by xx_toran_xx (936474) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @08:35AM (#15443680)
    A day or so behind in speed, a few years ahead in intelligence.

    Take your pick.
  • by kthejoker (931838) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @08:54AM (#15443803)
    Way to rip off The Onion [theonion.com]. It's called karma for a reason, dude.
  • by Opportunist (166417) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @08:59AM (#15443840)
    That's what it comes down to. If you're supposed to have some chemical, some copany is already doing it by the ton. Making it yourself is most likely more costy than simply buying it.

    Now, there's also the "illegal" part. Namely explosives and drugs. So yes, the government has a definite interest in keeping its people dumb, or at least educate them only in a fashion suitable for the government. Pol Pot forgot that last part. It's been refined now. Someone who does not know how to create a problem is no problem.

    You see the same development in IT. Fewer and fewer people know how to program (I mean program. NOT writing code! I mean knowing how the things work, not knowing how to write a few lines of code and rely on the magic of the compiler). Thus fewer and fewer people are able to actually make things work in a "non intended" way.

    We're being reduced to being consumers. You get what you should have. Not what you want.
  • Re:Or Electronics (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 01, 2006 @10:06AM (#15444397)
    I strongly recommend you talk to a small claims lawyer about what your options are. You might be able to sue for total damage done (I'd write off the whole computer) plus any legal fees. A (certified) threatening letter from a small claims lawyer can do wonders and typically only costs as small amount (less than $100).
  • by novapyro (696513) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @12:23PM (#15445986)
    Which is the real issue, and it has been getting worse and worse over the years. It's about the drug war effort - the terror war has just widened the net a bit.
    No. I have direct experience with the CPSC on this issue; it really is about illegal explosives.

    The lawyers at the CPSC tell us that by stopping sales of some chemicals, they believe they will stop the illicit "M-80" trade. We in the pyrotechnics hobby disagree.

    For those that don't know: There is a "booming" business in making and selling illegal salutes. Sales of large (greater than 50 mg) salutes (the proper name for a noisemaking device which functions by the deflagration or detonation of flash powder) to the general public has been illegal since 1966. BATFE is the organization that sees to that enforcement. CPSC is not charged with that duty; they see mainly to products that are intended to be sold to consumers. However, the Federal Hazardous Substance Act grants them authority to regulate hazardous substances in certain limited situations. The CPSC is attempting to stretch their FHSA authority to cover the chemicals used in the manufacture of salutes. Currently, this is mostly finely divided metals (aluminum, magnesium, and "magnalium"; Al-Mg alloys) and potassium perchlorate, but there are other oxidizers that occur in some flash formulae.

    CPSC has a persuasive powerpoint deck that shows lots of nasty injuries from illegal explosives. None of us, least of all the pyro hobbyists, want to have people lose fingers, hands, eyes, or lives over some pyro; we agree on that. However, we in the pyro community believe that hobbyist suppliers of pyro chemcicals aren't the source of the chems used in illicit trade; those come from traditional chemical supply houses, mostly.

    Firefox Enterprises is currently in litigation with the CPSC over this. Go to their website http://www.firefox-fx.com/ [firefox-fx.com] and click on the CPSC link for details. Skylighter, my local supplier http://www.skylighter.com/ [skylighter.com] has been visited by the CPSC, but so far he (Harry Gilliam, proprietor) hasn't been enjoined to stop sales. He has very tightly restricted sales of salute-making chemicals however; so maybe that will hold the dogs at bay for the moment.

    In the US, it is legal, at the federal level, to make your own fireworks without a license. State and local laws may indeed restrict you, but the feds (BATFE) allow it. We in the hobbyist pyro community would like to see that continue. Help us. Join the fireworks alliance, at no cost. http://www.fireworksalliance.org/ [fireworksalliance.org] Read the information that Dave, Tom, and John put together there, and agitate your legislators. Buy something from one of the vendors above; there is a surcharge that goes to the CPSC defense fund. Donate directly to the fireworks foundation: http://www.fireworksfoundation.org/ [fireworksfoundation.org].

    To help out and enjoy some great fireworks at club-sponsored events, Join the Pyrotechnics Guild International: http://www.pgi.org/membership.aspx [pgi.org]. Join a local (or distant; some of our members are states away) pyro club: http://www.pgi.org/fireworks-clubs.aspx [pgi.org] My club is The Crackerjacks http://www.crackerjacks.org/ [crackerjacks.org]; but join any you like. We'd be happy to teach you how to safely construct individual fireworks, how to choreograph a disply, or just how to make your backyard fuse-lighting a better experience.

    Novapyro
  • by oni (41625) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @03:01PM (#15447562) Homepage
    lets say, you get one guy in the neighborhood to teach 6 kids, and you each pay him the $10k

    A more realistic comparison to public school: 20 kids in a class = $200,000 a year. You could easily rent a building, hire a custodial staff, buy all the books and other materials, and still have more than 100k left over to pay the teacher.

    For high-school, you need a history teacher, a science teacher, etc. But there are still at least 20 kids per teacher, so the ratios still hold up.

    I stand by my statement. It should be possible to educate a kid for 10K. A big part of the problem is bureaucratic overhead that you get with any large government operation. We could take care of that with privatization (but again, as soon as I bring that up, many people stop reading). The other big problem is parents that dont care and kids that are just stupid. We could take care of that by abandoning this notion of "no child left behind." We as a society need to accept that not everyone has the same gifts. Everyone is entitled to the same opportunity - the opportunity to attend school, but nobody is entitled to an outcome, that is something you have to earn.

    And hey, that's the current situation anyway. Many kids go all the way through highschool and cant read. The only difference between the current situation and what I'm suggesting is that we stop spending money on those kids.

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