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I was reading this question about Breaking Bad on the Movies & TV Stack Exchange site and I'm wondering:

If you spill dirt in methylamine, can you extract the methylamine back out?

My very basic level of understanding leads me to believe that if you heat the resulting mud, you should be able to dry out the dirt and return it to its normal state, and likely create some type of vapor. But, I'm probably completely wrong.

So, is this possible?

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    $\begingroup$ Yes, it's possible, and quite easy at that. $\endgroup$ Aug 5 '16 at 13:11
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    $\begingroup$ But the more pure/clean the starting material, the better the extraction yield will be. If you mix a few grams of methylamine into a pound of soil, you will not be able to recover all of the methylamine. You might be able to get some back, but you will lose most of it. whereas if you mix a few grams of soil with a few pounds of methylamine, you should be able to get most if it back. $\endgroup$ Aug 5 '16 at 14:17
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, but is anyone aware that methylamine is a gas at room temperature? $\endgroup$
    – vapid
    Aug 5 '16 at 14:38
  • $\begingroup$ @vapid Methylamine is used as crystalline hydrochloride. $\endgroup$
    – Mithoron
    Aug 5 '16 at 18:33
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    $\begingroup$ @Mithoron In the movie it was liquid. $\endgroup$
    – vapid
    Aug 8 '16 at 7:06
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The wording of the question (and confirmed in a comment) suggest a major problem with the scene in question. If mixing dirt with methylamine made mud, then it was either some solution of dissolved methylamine, or liquid methylamine, but not a solid methylamine salt like methylamine hydrochloride. The first scenario wouldn't make sense for the synthesis of methamphetamine, and the second case is the real problem: methylamine boils at -6oC.

Assuming they had a solution containing methylamine that had become contaminated with dirt, the recovery would actually be pretty easy. Because methylamine has such a low boiling point, simply basifying the solution during distillation would readily separate the methylamine from anything else that could be present in the contamination.

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  • $\begingroup$ I know little about science (hence my need to ask this question), but in the TV show in question, what was referred to as methylamine was a blue-ish liquid that came in large plastic drums. It was used by the main characters as an ingredient in Meth. At one point they either spilled dirt into a drum of it or a drum fell over, I can't remember which, and they were still able to extract the methylamine and use it. I was just curious if that's a believable scenario. $\endgroup$ Apr 5 '17 at 12:13

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