We encounter them every day, putting things like water, chlorine, acetic acid and sulfuric acid to work for us in mundane ways. Yet amongst the chemical soup, there are some substances that are just too deadly. In this list, we discover chemicals that are lethal beyond comprehension and learn what to never touch, breathe, or taste, for the sake of survival. If it dissolves glass or is 20 quintillion times as strong as sulfuric acid, the danger is real, and we are not joking.
10. Fluoroantimonic Acid
Superacids are scientifically defined as acids stronger than the infamous chemical sulfuric acid. And super they are, which makes them extremely dangerous. You probably wonder what the world’s strongest acid is, and that record goes to Fluoroantimonic Acid, a superacid that will actually dissolve glass. Terrifying. Of course, it would swiftly melt away any human body parts it came into contact with as well. The actual strength of this acid is a number that we cannot even imagine – just 20 quintillion times the strength of pure, full strength sulfuric acid, which is dangerous enough.
The superacid has to be stored with extreme caution in containers made from PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene) to prevent deadly accidents. Just about any organic compound will be protonated by this acid, which also forms vapors with a high level of toxicity. The components of the acid at an elemental level are combinations of antimony, hydrogen and fluorine. The raw materials are pretty mundane, but the right combination is extraordinary in its power. Chemical engineering and organic chemistry operations make use of this chemical for its ability to protonate organic compounds without having to find a specific solvent.
It might surprise you, but nicotine, an addictive plant-derived alkaloid, can be deadly toxic and we are not talking about a slow death from smoking-related health complications. Simply being accidentally overexposed to nicotine can cause a fatal overdose. Small amounts of nicotine function as a stimulant, but too much interferes with the autonomic nervous system and skeletal muscle cells. Furthermore, nicotine is poisonous enough to have been used as an insecticide, which has caused some very unfortunate accidental human deaths.
Nicotine poisoning is becoming more widespread in society thanks to increased availability of alternative nicotine products, such as liquid nicotine, according to Healthline. Symptoms of overexposure may include vomiting, increases in blood pressure, heart arrythmia, dehydration, dizziness, headache and visual and auditory disturbances. In insecticide applications, nicotine is sprayed on sites of insect infestation, swiftly killing the pests. Nicotine’s toxicity is such that only 30 to 60 milligrams may kill an adult. Fortunately, fatalities are not very common in adults, but data shows that if a child gets ahold of nicotine products, fatalities are more likely. Even picking tobacco plants without sufficient precautions has been identified as a potential cause of nicotine poisoning.
8. Hydrogen Peroxide
It’s almost water… but not. It is hydrogen and oxygen, just like water, but in a different ratio. While you have seen it in the home and drug store for a variety of uses, what you get is the diluted form (3 to 6%). Hydrogen peroxide in more concentrated amounts is explosive, extremely dangerous, and able to unleash tremendous damage (so handle with great care).
Hydrogen peroxide in so-called food grade concentrations has caused a number of deaths when misused or accidentally ingested in quantity. The stuff is poisonous, as it behaves very differently in the body compared to the water to which it is so relatively close, chemically. Even worse is the fact that violent criminals have used hydrogen peroxide in deadly attacks.
In one especially tragic case described by the British Broadcasting Service, subways in London were attacked by four crazed bombers who used hydrogen peroxide-based explosives to kill a shocking 52 people in London tube and bus attacks. Due to the mundane nature of hydrogen peroxide, police were not notified of the purchases of the chemical despite the large quantity being bought on repeated occasions, prompting criticism from the coroner commenting on the case.
Cadmium is not very well known compared to the nearly cliched “big three” poisonous metals and metalloids, arsenic, mercury, and lead. Yet cadmium is exceptionally dangerous, especially in the readily bioavailable and extraordinarily anti-organism and reactive compound known as Dimethylcadmium. Possibly the most toxic thing a chemist could reasonably be unlucky enough to come across, the compound consists of Cadmium, Hydrogen and Carbon mixed in just the right way to be unusually unsafe. Dimethylcadmium is not something to wash away, for it will explode upon exposure to water.
Furthermore, the chemical is carcinogenic, though that might be one’s last worry considering how immediate the threat of acute poisoning and physical injury presented by this chemical is. A colorless liquid, Dimethylcadmium quickly turns to vapor, allowing it to inflict even more damage should people allow themselves to get into its proximity. The nasty effects of Dimethylcadmium include quick attacks through the bloodstream on the heart and lungs, which it targets with incredible biochemical force.
6. Azidoazide Azide C2N14
This bizarre acid is the most explosive of all created chemical compounds on the planet. Literally anything can cause it to detonate, making it an unmanageable compound. Azidoazide Azide has the seemingly mundane chemical formula C2N14, but what a bad combination that is.
The raw materials for the chemical exist in the air we breath every day, but in different molecular combinations. Classified as a high-nitrogen energetic material, this azide is so reactive that the slightest chemical change may create disaster. Furthermore, changes in temperature or slight disturbances will cause the chemical to explode, making it an extremely unstable substance. Chemists found that the compound was explosive even in solution, and would explosively decompose even as a result of infrared scanning. While a curiosity as a record holder for most explosive substance, this is no chemical for any amateur chemist to check out.
5. Ethylene Glycol
The worst chemicals are not just the most immediately toxic, corrosive, or explosive. Being commonly accessible and also tasting good are most unfortunate in case of mislabeling. A key part of antifreeze used in cars, ethylene glycol is metabolized in the human body by the same enzyme that digests ethanol found in wine, beer or whiskey. Yet the chemical has disastrous effects on the kidneys and central nervous system.
Children and pets are vulnerable, but even fully-grown victims may not realize what they are ingesting in cases of mislabeling due to bottle reuse until it is too late to dodge death or serious harm. Effects can include nervous system disfunction that leads to death within a short time from contamination, which occurs easily upon exposure. Accidental ingestion, exposure to fumes in concentration and spills, or skin absorption are all among the ways that the deadly goo can come into contact with victims.
Chlorine might seem like a familiar substance, or less a poison than a disinfectant, despite its notorious wartime usage. After all, the water you drink is likely chlorinated, or at least you hope it is if there is concern over possible waterborne illnesses. Yet chlorine and chlorine derivatives can be exceptionally dangerous, and also easy to accidentally encounter in either excessive concentrations or in combination with other common chemicals that render it much deadlier. For starters, chlorine can cause serious lung damage in pure form.
The chemical reaction that produces chlorine can occur from mixing cleaning products that were never meant to be combined, such as bleach and acids like vinegar (acetic acid). This can be extremely toxic, and even fatal. Chlorine is insidious. It may not kill outright, but exposure may trigger permanent lung damage that builds over time. One of the worst symptoms, apart from actual burns, are those associated with pulmonary edema, a fluid accumulation in the lungs. Greenish yellow, chlorine has a sickly smell that some might recognize from bleach made from sodium hypochlorite or swimming pools and treated drinking water, where it is used in lower concentrations.
3. Dimethyl Mercury
Mercury poisoning is often thought of as a chronic issue, which is more likely to be the case when mercury compounds like Cinnabar (Mercury Sulfide) or even in pure form in small quantities come into contact with the human body. Yet organic mercury compounds are more bioavailable, or readily absorbed and metabolized in the human body. Thus, they are far deadlier. Dimethyl Mercury, for instance, is a chemical to be greatly feared.
Volatile in its reactivity, Dimethyl Mercury is colorless, flammable, and is one of the most potent neurotoxins in the universe. Just 0.1 milliliter can trigger an acute case of mercury poisoning, which can kill. Exposure need not be through ingestion – skin contact is a potentially fatal incident. Death can occur even if gloves are worn, as latex is no barrier to the chemical. The tragic death of chemist Karen Wetterhahn saw the researcher die after being exposed to just several drops of Dimethyl Mercury, which went through her latex gloves. Following exposure, she thought she would be OK until symptoms arose and she passed away 10 months after the tiny spill.
2. Sodium cyanide
Frequently used in industrial applications, sodium cyanide can cause death in an extraordinarily short timeframe should exposure occur. The white, water soluble salt is mostly used as a chemical agent for extracting gold from ore, and is thus not illegal despite the danger it presents. In some extremely disturbing cases, the chemical has been used to murder (or attempt to murder) people for insurance money. The most shocking fact in these truly depraved criminal cases was that the chemical was placed in products available in public for purchase, with the hope that the intended victim would be among the customers.
Sodium cyanide is also used for illegal cyanide fishing and is an all-around deadly chemical that should not be handled casually. Acutely toxic, sodium cyanide kills by interfering with human respiration and is an inhibitor of electrons. Impairment of oxygen metabolism then occurs, with lactic acidosis to follow. Death can result from exposure to just 200 or 300 milligrams of sodium cyanide. Unfortunately, fatal effects come fast with this nasty chemical.
1. Chlorine trifluoride
A bizarre chemical of interest to Nazi researchers as a weapon of World War II, Chlorine Trifluoride just didn’t make the grade as it was seen as too dangerous. A total of 30 tons were produced by Nazi Germany to create bombs and flamethrowers before being discontinued for its sheer impracticality. The bizarre chemical is an oxidizing agent that is corrosive to the point of conflagration. Formed from an unstable mix of halogen elements chlorine and fluorine, Chlorine Trifluoride is explosive, toxic, and exceptionally reactive. It might shock some that there are chemicals that can dissolve glass, but this chlorine compound is another glass buster in a different way.
With this chemical you can literally set glass on fire. Most chemists do not want to work with the chemical given the extraordinary danger it presents. (Definitely forget the test tube!) The reactive chemical will start fires upon any disturbance that cannot be put out with water; water just grows the fire. This stuff burns the fireproof – even asbestos, the deadly fireproofing material will burn with Chlorine Trifluoride. The only way to store it is in containers with a thin fluorine coating, but an accident will spark disaster. When a storage facility with the now banned chemical weapon caught fire, the flames continued until they had burned a foot into the ground before stopping.