Re: Use of Bromine

D. Scott Chatfield

As a follow-up, a little digging indicates that in the era covered by this list, the primary use of bromine was as the compound ethylene bromide in conjuction with tetra-ethyl lead for motor fuel anti-knock compound. Methyl bromide as a soil fumigant was probably number two in that era. Use of methyl bromide as a soil fumigant was phased out in 2005 because of concerns that it helped deplete the ozone layer.

The question then is, was the bromine shipped in elemental form to these users? I recall seeing a handful of bromine tanks, always single car shipments, going to agricultural customers up until about 1990, when they switched over to methyl bromide shipments, which were usually multi-car shipments. But given the somewhat toxic nature of elemental bromine, I find it odd that they wouldve been making methyl bromide on-site. The switchover could have had something to do with the Staggers Act making it cheaper to ship methyl bromide than bromine, much as it made kaolin slurry cheaper to ship than dry refined kaolin.

It would make more sense that elemental bromine was shipped to refineries to make ethylene bromide, but that's just a guess.

Elemental bromine was shipped in pressure tanks with a lead lining. The ones I photographed in the '80s were roughly 11,000g tanks like the Atlas propane tank. In the steam era they probably used tanks closer in size to 6,500 gallon chlorine tanks like the Trix model. Someone else can probably chime in here.

Lastly, Arkansas is the primary source of elemental bromine in the US. It's usually recovered from brine wells. Isreal harvests a lot from the world's largest open brine well, aka the Dead Sea.

Scott Chatfield

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