Working with fluorine

Digging back into ACS journals this week, I came across this warning in a 1976 Journal of Chemical Education paper (DOI: 10.1021/ed049p583) that discussed preparing perbromate by bubbling fluorine gas through an alkaline bromate solution:

There are problems associated with this preparative method for which precautions must be taken (8). For example, some fluorine escapes from the alkaline solution which results in small explosions above the reacting mixture, and the action of fluorine on Teflon sometimes results in fires.

Reference 8 took me to an Inorganic Chemistry paper from 1969 (DOI: 10.1021/ic50072a008):

Although most of the fluorine is absorbed by the base, enough escapes to make it imperative that the reaction be carried out in a well-ventilated fume hood. The reaction is not smooth, and small explosions may take place in the vapor above the solution. Under no circumstances should the apparatus be left to run unattended.

I wonder what exactly “small” means in the context of “small explosions.” Anyone want to share their experiences with handling fluorine?

For those who haven’t seen fluorine in action, here are the good folks of The Periodic Table of Videos visiting Eric Hope‘s lab at the University of Leicester, in the U.K.:

Author: Jyllian Kemsley

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  1. I used elemental fluorine to make caesium fluoroxysulfate as a Ph.D. student. This involved bubbling F2 gas through a solution of caesium sulfate in water at low temperature. No precautions other than running the reaction in a fume hood were taken, as far as I remember. This was in 1983 or thereabouts. It was ‘interesting’. Actually I was in the same research group as Eric Hope, who is a couple of years younger than me. He worked with fluorine too, and also with organoselenium compounds as ligands for transition metals. Nice combination!