Friday, October 29, 2010

The Important Lesson of Exploding Underwear

It feels good to get the last of my firewood split and stacked before October’s chilly breeze turns to November’s biting frost.

But that dog turd has other ideas.

As my splitting maul careens down toward that first unfortunate log, I slip on an ill-placed pile of poop.

My legs split. The log does not.

What should happen next is a drastic groin injury that leaves me whimpering on the ground until my wife comes out to check on me. I would tolerate her amused ridicule as long as she is prepared to deal with the firewood until I recover from surgery.

Instead, I manage to land on one knee to avoid serious injury. I was lucky.

My wood splitting area is a known dog defecation zone. I should have checked. I just was not using my noggin.

Such embarrassing moments keep us humble. I can accept their necessity.

But what if your underwear explodes?

I read about a woman in the early 1950s who bought a new netted underskirt made with nitrocellulose, a basic ingredient in gunpowder. She wore it to a New Year’s Eve party. One casual flick of a cigarette, and BOOM! She suddenly became the center of attention.

Oh, sure. It’s funny now. The woman, in her highly charred state, did not find it quite so amusing. Hers was one of several incidents that sparked (heh, heh) the Flammable Fabrics Act of 1953.

That’s right: the government had to step in and make it illegal to sell highly combustible clothing.

After a series of lethal and disfiguring incidents.

It’s easy to look back now and see how stupid that was. Unthinkable nowadays, right?

If you believe that, I’ve got a yard full of dog turds to show you.

Remember in 2007, when a bunch of Thomas the Train toys were recalled because they contained lead? People who sent their trains back received an extra toy train as a complimentary gift.

How thoughtful of the distributor, RC2 Corp. Too bad the new toy train also contained lead.

You can’t possibly fire enough people to make up for such epic incompetence.

I read about all this stuff in a book called “Slow Death By Rubber Duck,” by Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie. It describes “The Secret Danger of Everyday Things;” how toxic chemicals ubiquitously and invisibly inhabit just about everything in your house.

“From the time we get up from a good night’s sleep under our wrinkle-resistant sheets (treated with the known carcinogen formaldehyde) to the time we go to bed after a snack of microwave popcorn (the interior of the bag coated with an indestructible chemical that builds up in our bodies), pollution surrounds us.”

The authors experimented on themselves, exposing their own bodies to mercury, phthalates, bromine, BPA, and bunches of other toxins widely available at the supermarket, proving that the human body does absorb this stuff - not just in massive, unrealistic quantities, but through normal use of common products.

They enumerate some steps you can take to protect yourself, but stress that public awareness and better regulation are the only long-term solutions.

Maybe 50 years from now, people will look back on how we dressed our kids in pajamas coated with poisonous flame-retardants and stored our food in chemical-leeching plastic containers, and wonder what the hell we were thinking.

Sometimes I wonder if we’ll make it that far. Our scientific knowledge and technological advancements truly are remarkable. But we don’t really know that much.

We know just enough to be dangerous.

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