Thursday 7 February 2008

It's usually a good idea to read the bottle

Orac reports on a spa which mistakenly used hydrogen peroxide, instead of water, to give enemas. Their excuse is that they looked the same. Well, when I was doing high school chemistry, we were taught a rhyme on the danger of making that assumpion:

Jenny was a schoolgirl,
Now Jenny is no more
For what she thought was H20
Was H2SO4

(I kept it in my head mostly as a way of remembering the chemical formula for sulphuric acid.)

It's a pretty fundimental rule of working in a chemistry lab that you assume everything is out to get you, and unless labelled otherwise, all clear liquids are deadly poisons which cause cancer on sight, never mind consumption. Likewise colourless solids which resemble nothing so much as table salt or castor sugar or sherbert are assumed to be pure, crystallised death unless the bottle says otherwise. (Yes, even chemistry researchers can paranoid about "chemicals" like everyone else. If there's hydrofluoric acid sitting around the lab, I'd like some warning before I pour it in a glass beaker and start wandering over to the wastes bottle with it.)

I really have to wonder what this person was like in their high school chemistry class. I should be a little grateful- the enema story gives that old rhyme an exciting new context:
Jenny was an enemist
Now Jenny has no backside
For what she thought was H20
Was hydrogen peroxide.

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