Why you shouldn't use sodium and white phosphorus at the same time

Hello Theodore,

My name is Andrew Pullen and I am an Electric Lamp and Element Collector located in Hobart, Tasmania. I was researching Osmium Filament Lamps and came across your "Wooden Periodic Table Table" web site, and soon found the "Sodium Party" page. I damn good idea, because those foolhardy enough to try dropping 100g+ of Alkali Metal into a pond need only whach you doing it!

I have a story to contribute. but unfortunately it is only "second-hand". It was reported in the newspaper (Tasmanian Mercury) and segments in the News Reports of at least three local television channels. It was reported as an "explosion" at Taroona High School, which involved evacuation of the school. It happened a while back now, possibly 10-15 years ago, but caused quite a "stir" that went on for a few weeks. The media tried to "hush-up" the detail of what had actually happened, but Hobart is small and stories circulate freely by word of mouth.

I deduce that a teacher had got both the sodium under oil and white phosphrus under water ot of the chem-store for a class demonstration, both at the same time!. They must have been in very similar or the same type of container. So you can see the stage is set for some real fireworks if an inadvertent mistake is made, and it highlights just how careful one mut be.

I suspect that the/a sizable chunk of Sodium was removed from the oil filled container so a few small pieces could be cut off for the demonstration. When it was replaced it was placed back into the water filled white Phosphorus container!

The newspaper reported "clouds of white smoke" drifting out over the Derwent River, ubdoubtedly P4O10, or H3PO4. Imagine the mayhem inside the confined space of the classroom, containing about 30 students, bits of Sodium and burming pieces of White Phosphrorus, not to mention the thick acrid clouds of P4O10 smoke and spot fires from the Phosphorus!

So the moral to this one is, just because Sodium and White Phosphorus are stored in a similar manner, don`t place them in containers which are remotely similar, or attampt to use them for demonstrations at the same time!

Thanks, Andrew Pullen

P.S.. Why is everyone`s first "love" from the Periodic Table Tungsten. Oliver Sachs loves it, you obviously love it, from your e-mail address., and I loved it too, because of the 3410*C bit and the fact that almost all the lamps in my collection contain at least a small piece of it!