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LuckyGuy's avatar

What do you do with the "really interesting" stuff engineers and their ilk have collected?

Asked by LuckyGuy (43814points) 1 month ago

This is a serious question that someone recently asked me.
Sadly a friend of mine, very late 70s, is rapidly approaching his end-of-life/expiration date due to a medical condition. It is terrible to watch the decline. :-(
He was a physicist and chemist all his life and has collected all kinds of “really interesting” things, (special tools, chemicals, minerals, etc.) that would be impossible to get now. He knows the stuff is valuable, and useful to someone so he is reluctant to just get rid of it. But his wife is concerned about what to do with it after he’s gone.
What does he do with it? What does she do with it? You certainly can’t advertise on Freecycle.

As a hypothetical example, let’s say he has 5 pounds of DDT and 15 kg of mercury, or 100 gallons of PCB oil, etc. (You can make up any list of chemicals that are banned and not available today.) Having it might classify your home as a toxic waste site.

If you know a scientist or engineer, have they collected scary stuff? Do they have a plan for passing it on?

Note: if you possibly fit into that category, preface any statement with “I have a friend…” Don’t incriminate yourself or anyone else.

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12 Answers

ragingloli's avatar

If I ever was in a position where I was forced to take possession of toxic chemicals, I would find a way to get rid of it post-haste. Just because someone collected something, does not make it valuable or worth keeping.
My little brother once had a box full of dead butterflies, and got rid of it immediately.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@ragingloli What about radioactive minerals he collected in the 1950s and early 60s when it was legal in the US. He feels they are precious. They actually are, but no school will take it. Too dangerous.

Another elderly gentleman used to shoot trap and reloaded his shotgun shells. He has 20+ pounds of gunpowder and hundreds of casings. That stuff is easy to get rid of. I can find at least half a dozen guys who will take some or all of it.

But there is sooo much other stuff at this guy’s house. Calcium carbide for old time miners’ lamps – at least a kilo.
Many gallons of kerosene for kerosene heaters in case there is a disaster. Many gallons. 20? 40? Bottles of compressed gasses for welding, and brazing. All are decades past the tank expiration date.
I want another young engineer (probably unmarried) to fall in love with it and take it all.

Forever_Free's avatar

I recently went to an Estate Sale in this amazing house near me. I find out that one of the occupants was an Engineer for General Electric and General Dynamics for many many years.
The house was stuffed to the gills with amazing stuff. Mostly Electric related which is right in my field of Engineering.
I bought about $300 of items. Anything from a Whole series of Electrical Engineering books from early 1900’s to an old tube radio that functions like it was new. Estate Sales have been a treasure trove. This might be one way to find the right interest.

gorillapaws's avatar

It’s a great question. If it were me, I would be inclined to reach out to a lawyer and find out how to surrender illegal substances to the correct authorities in a way that doesn’t incriminate me or (especially) my wife.

“Hey Lawyer Bill, I may be in possession of some things that may not be strictly legal to own and want to ensure they can be collected/destroyed by the appropriate authorities. I’d like to do this in a manner that does’t send me and my wife to jail. Is that something I can retain your services for?”

LuckyGuy's avatar

Concentrated HCl acid, HF acid, Nitric acid…. It’s all good stuff! Surely someone has a use rather than throwing it away.

@ragingloli What if it were a collection of tentacles from a rare protected species? It seems like such a waste. Surely someone younger would appreciate having such a collection.

Tropical_Willie's avatar

I’m in possession of several kilos of petrified wood, collected in late 1940s; in what is now Petrified Forest National Park, where it is against the law to collect !

RocketGuy's avatar

Hazardous materials ought to go to the local hazardous materials disposal facility. You could try a local college chemistry dept but they probably won’t take it. (HF will eat your bones, you know.) The expired tanks can’t legally be refilled but the gases can still be used. Local welding shop or metal shop maybe? Helium and argon are valuable.

MrGrimm888's avatar

I recently bought a vintage dive knife (different subject,) from Ebay.
Unlike most people who just sell knives, this was from an estate.

I guess it’s possible to have someone put all of a person’s stuff, up for bids.

Some of the more illicit stuff, I would really try hard to find a way to get it to the proper hands.
Old stiff like what was hypothetically possible, could be dangerous in the wrong hands.

Maybe you try to sell the stuff that is going to move without issues. Then keep the other stuff somewhere safe, until the old friend has bigger things to worry about.
Then. I would call a fire department, and see if they have the best ways if removing the stuff, without it hurting anyone.

I recently ran across several thousand assorted rifle and shotgun ammo, in my father’s shed. He apparently doesn’t know it exists. I am working on having it all safely removed.

Some of these old ARMY ammo cans, have extremely powerful odors coming from them.
The fact they have been stored outside in the heat, and thrown around for SO long, kind of amazes me there hasn’t already been an issue.

Just be careful, with stuff like that. I don’t have to tell the op, chemicals and other substances require certain types of storage, and some can become unstable, corrosive, or explosive.

I’m really sorry for your old friend.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@Tropical_Willie You get it! Those pieces are precious but you can’t sell it or advertise.
@MrGrimm888 Ammo is not illegal. It will sell or be taken immediately like my friend’s reloading stuff. Odors from metal ammo cans?! That means the seals have dried out. Scary. I would only open them remotely and on a cold day – with a friend standing by. “Here! Hold my beer.”

@RocketGuy I saw that Breaking Bad episode. Yuk! The bottles of acid can never be replaced. It just seems a shame to let them just be neutralized.

I want to help but this whole task can end up being a full time job for me. I want a young scientist/engineer to take the “good stuff”.

Blackwater_Park's avatar

If there are any vacuum tubes or old tube electronics they’ll sell quick. I’m always looking for that stuff

LuckyGuy's avatar

@Blackwater_Park You get it! I’ll check for you!
This makes me feel good! Thanks!

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