Archive for December, 2011

Chlorinating the Gene Pool.

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

Today is a brief cautionary tale reminding you to be aware of what chemicals you are mixing.
The cause of today’s story is an Airstream that its owners decided to sanitize the black tank. Nothing really wrong with that, though I think maybe they were trying to take cleanliness to the extreme. These people either weren’t aware, or had forgotten, that some things are not meant to mix. You know, like fire and gasoline, oil and water, baking soda and sulfuric acid– and swimming pool chlorine tablets and black tank contents.
They dropped a couple tablets in the tank through the toilet, and headed for home, theorizing the tablets would neutralize the bad stuff in the tank. I guess if you were trying to give the hazmat response team something to do, it would be a great start. In a mostly enclosed holding tank, not so much. A couple of minutes after the tablets started doing their thing, the fumes from the chemical reaction to some of the tank contents started fuming out of the plumbing vents. Luckily for them, they were driving down the road. Unluckily for the people following them, they were driving down the road. They noticed the cars behind them weaving all over the road, and pulled over to make sure nothing was wrong with the trailer. They discovered there was, in fact, something very wrong. They climbed back into their tow vehicle, and made a beeline for the nearest Airstream dealer so they could take care of the unfolding disaster. In the true way of the world, they were closest to mine.
The first inkling I had they were coming was when I saw them pull into the driveway, with trees on either side of the driveway spontaneously combusting, birds dropping out of the sky, pavement melting… Okay, maybe not, but it certainly sounds more dramatic than all the hired help gasping for breath when they pulled in. And of course, since I’m a perennial favorite of the Karma Gods, I got chosen as human sacrifice. I really have to find out what I did in a past life to honk them off at me.
I’ve grown accustomed to breathing as much as the next guy, so I waited almost a half hour before venturing into the rolling toxic waste dump. By then, most of the chemicals had reacted, and the fumes had started clearing, but it still was a chore to breath the stuff that was in the trailer. I opened all the windows and vents, and staggered back outside to wait for things to dissipate.
Investigation revealed the tank was really sterile, as nothing I’ve ever heard of could live in there. A new toilet and dump valve, after thoroughly flushing out the dregs in the tank, and things were almost as good as new. I explained to the customers that chlorine, like you find in bleach and even pool tablets, does not react well with ammonia, one of the main ingredients of black tank contents. I advised them to use a quality holding tank treatment from any RV supply store, and if they really wanted to clean out the tank, put a capful of liquid clothes soap in the tank, with a gallon of water, and drive around with that in the tank for a while.
No one was killed, no one was seriously hurt, though my eyes and throat burned for a while after they left. All in all, it was just another day in The Shop.

About the Author

Lug Wrench is a long-time mechanic, multiple Airstream owner, and dyed-in-the-wool pragmatist. All tales guaranteed 100% true, although names and certain details may be altered to protect the guilty.