Stink story (was Re: The Smell of Metals and Blood) 
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 Stink story (was Re: The Smell of Metals and Blood)

Larry Lippman writes:
>Never underestimate the sensitivity of the eye (which can compete
>with a photomultiplier tube) or the nose (which can compete with a gas
>chromatograph flame ionization detector).
>I have heard that the human nose can detect as little as 1/10th
>of a picogram of ethanethiol.  A GC FID detector is hard pressed to detect
>1 picogram per second.

Ethanethiol (a.k.a. ethyl mercaptan) is an extremely vile-smelling
chemical which is added to natural and LP fuel gasses to give them a
distinctive odor for safety reasons.  It's flammable, very volatile,
and probably toxic in sufficient concentration.  A tank truck full of
ethanethiol overturned in Louisville, Kentucky and it went into the
sewers, but that's another story.

Cavers sometimes use ehtanethiol for tracing air currents, to detect
connections between caves.  Internal temperature of most caves is the
average of the outside temperature (about 52F here in Indiana).  Caves
with multiple entrances have natural airflow by the chimney effect:  
In winter, warm cave air flows from entrances at higher elevation; in
summer, the flow is reversed.

One very cold weekend in 1972, some cavers placed an aluminum pan in
the lowest entrance of a cave, and poured in a liter of ethanethiol.
It was in a glass bottle with an ampule-style sealed tip under the
{*filter*}cap.  Someone who had a "credit card" for the local university
chemistry stockroom had obtained the nuclear stinkbomb.

The cavers spent the following two days sniffing other caves and
sinkholes in the area.  They found several unsuspected air-

Meanwhile, two {*filter*}agers from a distant city arrived in the area at
about 3 AM Sunday morning and went into a nearby cave.  One of them
crawled into a small passage, saw what looked like bones and clothing,
and smelled a putrid smell.  He and his friend left the cave very
hastily, drove straight to the county sheriff's office, and reported
that they had found a dead body.

The cave owner woke up the next morning surrounded by cop cars and
other emergency vehicles with flashing lights.  Later that day, two
state troopers arrived wearing coveralls and carrying a {*filter*} body-
bag.  Three residents of the local caver ghetto, including myself,
agreed to guide the cops through the cave.

They were good stout fellows but had never been caving. We furnished
lights and helmets.  Along the way, they told us stories of scuba-
diving for corpses in sewage lagoons, but the cave gave them
claustrophobia.  They were especially disgruntled because the affair
was causing them to miss the Super Bowl game on television.

When we reached the site, a caver climbed down a vertical crevice.  He
returned in a few minutes with an old stocking-cap which had been
lying among pieces of white limestone.  "Here's your body!" he

When we emerged from the cave, the cops handed me their camera and
asked me to take a group picture of our muddy crew for their newsletter.


Sun, 05 Sep 1993 00:36:50 GMT
 Stink story (was Re: The Smell of Metals and Blood)

>                                                A tank truck full of
>ethanethiol overturned in Louisville, Kentucky and it went into the
>sewers, but that's another story.

Sooooooo...tell the story, Frank.  It sounds like a real stinker.


Mon, 06 Sep 1993 12:47:09 GMT
 [ 2 post ] 

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