Cow jumps over Moon, details at eleven
February 26, 2008 7:21 AM   Subscribe

I am asking this for my kids I am writing a book and researching what would happen (both physiologically and on a larger scope) if pure nitroglycerin were injected into a cow, which (as we all know) is just brimming over with methane? [NOT COWIST]
posted by misha to Science & Nature (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: This is quite possibly much less exciting than you imagine. Remember that Nitroglycerin is used as a pharmaceutical, and has a circulatory system effect.

MSDS for Nitroglycerin

The ACGIH limit is based on the risk of circulatory system effects .


* Routes of Exposure

Exposure to nitroglycerin can occur through inhalation, ingestion, eye or skin contact, and absorption through the skin [Hathaway et al. 1991]

* Summary of toxicology

1. Effects on Animals: Nitroglycerin affects the cardiovascular system, blood, and nervous system of experimental animals. The dermal LD(50) in rabbits is greater than 280 mg/kg [NIOSH 1991]. The oral LD(50) in rats is 105 mg/kg [NIOSH 1991]. Animals administered nitroglycerin orally developed hypotension, tremors, ataxia, lethargy, hyperpnea, cyanosis, prostration and went into convulsions [NLM 1992]. Nitroglycerin has caused methemoglobinemia in dogs [NLM 1992].

2. Effects on Humans: Nitroglycerin is a vasodilator which affects the cardiovascular system, blood, and nervous system in humans [Hathaway et al. 1991]. Workers exposed to between 0.03 and 0.11 ppm complained of headaches and irritation [ACGIH 1991]. Chronic exposure results in the development of tolerance to the cardiovascular effects of nitroglycerin. A break in chronic exposure of one to three days can result in malaise, severe chest pains, palpatations, and even sudden death [Clayton and Clayton 1993; Rom 1992; NLM 1992]. Monday morning headaches or angina occur in chronically exposed workers as a result of a withdraw from exposure while not working over the weekend. Normally, if the individual is again exposed to nitroglycerin the symptoms will disappear. Exposure to nitroglycerin can also cause abnormalities of blood including methemoglobinemia and leukopenia. In addition, abnormal liver function tests have been observed in individuals exposed to nitroglycerin [Rom 1992]. Symptoms of Raynaud's phenomenon and peripheral neuropathy have also been reported in exposed workers [Rom 1992].

* Signs and symptoms of exposure

1. Acute exposure: Acute exposure to nitroglycerin can cause headaches, nausea, vomiting, occasionally diarrhea, sweating, and lightheadedness. High exposure can cause abdominal cramps, vomiting, depression or mania, mental confusion, delirium, convulsions, paresthesias or paralysis, aphasia, impaired vision, breathing difficulties, methemoglobinemia and blue skin (cyanosis), bradycardia, circulatory collapse, or death [Sittig 1991; Rom 1992].

2. Chronic exposure: Chronic exposure to nitroglycerin can lead to the development of tolerance, and sudden withdrawal from exposure can result in angina-like chest pains which may be accompanied by malaise, weakness, vomiting, dizziness, headache, or impaired vision. Sudden death may also result. Chronic exposure may also result in severe headache, hallucinations, and skin rashes. Allergic contact dermatitis can occur secondary to topical exposure to nitroglycerin.
posted by Comrade_robot at 7:23 AM on February 26, 2008

Please clarify: do you mean veinous injection or into the methane-containing pockets of the gastrointestinal tract?

(I've never typed that before.)
posted by Phred182 at 7:36 AM on February 26, 2008

"(both physiologically and on a larger scope)"

Is "on a larger scope" a veiled way of saying "how much nitro would it take to blow up a cow all dynamite style just from tipping it over?" Because that's obviously going to be somewhat different (and more awesome) than physiological effects from intravenous injection of a couple of grams.
posted by majick at 7:37 AM on February 26, 2008

Response by poster: Wow, what a great question, Phred182. I think Comrade_robot answered the first scenario, so: directly into the methane-containing pockets of the gastrointestinal tract.
posted by misha at 7:39 AM on February 26, 2008

I think you are thinking of administering a nitroglycerin enema to a cow - the methane is emitted from the anus, after all. I am not sure how practical it is to administer nitroglycerin enemas, and I am not sure if this is a suitable subject of conversation for children.

On a related note, when my mother went in the evenings when I was a kid, my father, instead of helping me build with my Lego, etc, parked himself in front of the tv.

One night, when my mother was out, my father was sitting with the lights off watching a tv program about cows. The phone rang, my father answered and began a long conversation. Meanwhile, on the television, a farmer inserted his hand into a long plastic glove, and advanced toward the waiting backside of a cow.

He plunged his arm into the cow's ass, fished around for a bit, and started pulling out a long stream of cow poop. It looked a little like an Eat-More waterfall.

My father, still talking on the telephone, noticed what was on the television, and quickly changed the channel.

It is a lasting memory of childhood.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:39 AM on February 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

I think you are thinking of administering a nitroglycerin enema to a cow - the methane is emitted from the anus, after all

Actually, the majority of the methane is released through the mouth and nose.
posted by Atreides at 7:50 AM on February 26, 2008

Methane is relatively unreactive on its own. It's really only a methane/oxygen mixture which is explosive.

Nitroglycerin, in sufficient concentration, is explosive on its own--it requires no other chemicals to be explosive.

I'm not sure whether nitroglycerin+methane, in the absence of elemental oxygen, would undergo any reaction that nitroglycerin couldn't undertake on its own. It's possible the nitro groups could act as oxidizing agents to react with the methane, but I'm not sure of that. My best guess is that nitroglycerin+methane, in the absence of oxygen (e.g., in the digestive tract), would be no more explosive than nitroglycerin alone. So what would happen if you injected a cow with massive amounts of nitroglycerin? Probably about the same as if you injected any other, less methanous animal with nitroglycerin.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:55 AM on February 26, 2008

methanous? methanogenic? Google suggests I actually meant "methanogenic" where I wrote "methanous."
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:56 AM on February 26, 2008

Response by poster: My boys seemed to feel that injecting nitrogylcerin into any part of the cow would cause a reaction once the nitro warmed (due to the heat of the cow's blood), which would intensify once the cow started moving. We did not get into (excuse the expression) enemas during the discussion.

Specifically, the conversation began after riding "Twister" at Universal Studios, where we mentioned that although you, the rider, hear the sound of a cow mooing during the experience, no flying cow appears like in the movie, to our great disappointment. We then postulated that actually causing a cow to fly across a stage, even an animatronic one, would be a difficult undertaking. My oldest son felt that, for optimal effect, the cow should fly into the audience.

We have also seen a movie recently about a rescue mission, where a rescue party sets out to free some mountain climbers who have fallen into a crevice at very high altitude and so are suffering pulmonary edema, etc. The rescuers bring nitroglycerin, with the idea of blasting the climbers free, but the nitro begins to heat up in the sun and becomes volatile, killing some of the rescuers in an explosion before they reach the climbers. (hence the idea of the nitro heating in the bloodstream of the cow and wreaking havoc).

So, we put the ideas together and this AskMe is the result.
posted by misha at 8:05 AM on February 26, 2008

Mod note: a few comments removed - please write your HILARIOUS cow jokes on a piece of paper and mail them to me and spare this thread. Thank you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:14 AM on February 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

Methane? *Boggles.* Yes, cows produce and emit a lot of it, but I can't imagine they contain a lot of it. If you're looking for a boom bigger than your fist, it's a big stretch to look here, methinks.

posted by cmiller at 8:29 AM on February 26, 2008

Nitro must be concentrated to retain its explosive properties. Mythbusters did an episode about the nitro patches used for cardiac patients. That might satisfy their curiosity.
posted by slavlin at 8:39 AM on February 26, 2008

Best answer: Nitro? You don't want nitro to blow up a cow. You want nitrogen tri-iodide.
First, make some.
Then, torch the metal part of a regular light bulb until it can be safely removed with a pair of pliers. Coat the inside of the bulb with the more-stable, wet form of the compound.
Allow to dry.
Carefully replace the metal cap on the bulb, seal with epoxy or electrical tape.
Place into cow.

Now, you have a charged cow. You could probably do this with several cows and start some sort of chain-reaction, but you should probably start with one.

Assuming you "tip" (catapult, shoot from cannon, drop from low-orbit to create flaming-explosive-beef-meteor) your cow at a moment when the methane load is relatively high, you should achieve a pretty impressive explosion when the hot methane hits the oxygen outside the cow.

Hope this helps, good luck!
posted by Baby_Balrog at 9:05 AM on February 26, 2008 [3 favorites]

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