The science of Breaking Bad: Open House

Breaking Bad | Season 4 | Episode 3 | “Open House”

Walt and Skyler figure out how to almost-legally buy the car wash.

Walt and Skyler figure out how to almost-legally buy the car wash.

The writers on Breaking Bad are consummate masters of slow, near-imperceptible build-ups of tension. This week, we crank the characters a little more, and part of the beauty of the show is that we don’t know when everything is going to fly apart – it could be next week à la The Cousins, or we could have to wait until the very end of the season à la Wayfarer.

You can read more about this episode at AMC, IMDb and the A.V. Club.

Working at the car wash

Good to see that people still respect environmental regulations, especially in a water-poor state like New Mexico. Bogdan should have requested that the samples be analysed in a certified laboratory, though – field tests like those that the “agent” did are only good for initial screening.

The water sampling allegedly uncovered ammonia, acetone, benzene and nitrobenzene. Ammonia is the principal ingredient in streak-free glass cleaners, and can also be found in some soaps. Acetone is mostly used as a general-purpose solvent, and could conceivably exist in the car wash as a degreaser. Benzene and nitrobenzene are mostly used as precursors in the chemical industry, but could also exist in fuel additives and engine oil.

All water going through the car wash is presumably recycled for later use, and periodically returned to the water table. In order to meet environmental regulations, it would have to be thoroughly filtered to make it essentially unchanged from when it was taken out. Filtration systems include layers of sand and other fine solids to get rid of particulate matter, adsorbents like zeolites and activated carbon to trap chemicals and perhaps chemical reactions to remove specific pollutants.

Skyler and/or Saul have done their research, or at least found some relevant legislation with which to dazzle Bogdan. They cite the 1978 New Mexico Hazardous Waste Act (74-4-13) and the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (15-53-1-2606).

Elements in the credits

Breaking Bromine
Bad Barium
Created Chromium
Bryan Cranston Bromine
AnNa Gunn Sodium
AAron Paul Argon
DeaN Norris Nitrogen
Betsy Brandt Beryllium
RJ MitTe Tellurium
BOb Odenkirk Oxygen
Giancarlo Esposito Einsteinium
JonAthan Banks Astatine
Nigel GibBs Boron
Jennifer HAsty Arsenic
Bill Burr Bismuth
Jeremy Howard Holmium
Skip MAcdonald Actinium
Mark FreeboRn Radon
MiChael Slovis Carbon
Dave Porter Polonium
Sharon Bialy Sulfur
Sherry Thomas Thorium
BrYan Cranston Yttrium
Diane MerCer Cerium
Moira Walley-Beckett Molybdenum
Thomas SchnAuz Gold
George Mastras Germanium
PeTer Gould Tellurium
Sam Catlin Calcium
Melissa Bernstein Beryllium
MicHelle MacLaren Helium
Mark JOhnson Oxygen
StewArt A. Lyons Argon
SAm Catlin Americium
David SLade Lanthanum
Vince Gilligan Vanadium
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