Posts tagged ‘mercury’

Why Scams Work

The WSJ has an interesting article about why get rich quick schemes that should be so easy to demolish, particularly with Google at our fingertips, seem to attract so many people.

The article reminded me of a piece I published years ago over at my climate site.  It was about a company called "Hydroinfra" in Sweden.  I want to reprint the article as I still find the subject to be immensely entertaining.  In particular, I really really encourage you to look at the comments section of this article linked towards the bottom and see the back and forth with reader "michael".  In the face of overwhelming skepticism from pretty much every other reader, Michael desperately wants to believe -- so much so that he and a few others start heaping derision and sinister motives (interspersed with spurious appeals to authority) on those who are trying to patiently explain the science.  One can see this same desperate behavior from those who have bought into every famous pyramid scheme ever.

I got an email today from some random Gmail account asking me to write about HyrdoInfra.  OK.  The email begins: “HydroInfra Technologies (HIT) is a Stockholm based clean tech company that has developed an innovative approach to neutralizing carbon fuel emissions from power plants and other polluting industries that burn fossil fuels.”

Does it eliminate CO2?  NOx?  Particulates?  SOx?  I actually was at the bottom of my inbox for once so I went to the site.  I went to this applications page.  Apparently, it eliminates the “toxic cocktail” of pollutants that include all the ones I mentioned plus mercury and heavy metals.  Wow!  That is some stuff.

Their key product is a process for making something they call “HyrdroAtomic Nano Gas” or HNG.  It sounds like their PR guys got Michael Crichton and JJ Abrams drunk in a brainstorming session for pseudo-scientific names.

But hold on, this is the best part.  Check out the description of HNG and how it is made:

Splitting water (H20) is a known science. But the energy costs to perform splitting outweigh the energy created from hydrogen when the Hydrogen is split from the water molecule H2O.

This is where mainstream science usually closes the book on the subject.

We took a different approach by postulating that we could split water in an energy efficient way to extract a high yield of Hydrogen at very low cost.

A specific low energy pulse is put into water. The water molecules line up in a certain structure and are split from the Hydrogen molecules.

The result is HNG.

HNG is packed with ‘Exotic Hydrogen’

Exotic Hydrogen is a recent scientific discovery.

HNG carries an abundance of Exotic Hydrogen and Oxygen.

On a Molecular level, HNG is a specific ratio mix of Hydrogen and Oxygen.

The unique qualities of HNG show that the placement of its’ charged electrons turns HNG into an abundant source of exotic Hydrogen.

HNG displays some very different properties from normal hydrogen.

Some basic facts:

  • HNG instantly neutralizes carbon fuel pollution emissions
  • HNG can be pressurized up to 2 bars.
  • HNG combusts at a rate of 9000 meters per second while normal Hydrogen combusts at a rate 600 meters per second.
  • Oxygen values actually increase when HNG is inserted into a diesel flame.
  • HNG acts like a vortex on fossil fuel emissions causing the flame to be pulled into the center thus concentrating the heat and combustion properties.
  • HNG is stored in canisters, arrayed around the emission outlet channels. HNG is injected into the outlets to safely & effectively clean up the burning of fossil fuels.
  • The pollution emissions are neutralized instantly & safely with no residual toxic cocktail or chemicals to manage after the HNG burning process is initiated.

Exotic Hyrdrogen!  I love it.  This is probably a component of the “red matter” in the Abrams Star Trek reboot.  Honestly, someone please tell me this a joke, a honeypot for mindless environmental activist drones.    What are the chemical reactions going on here?  If CO2 is captured, what form does it take?  How does a mixture of Hydrogen and Oxygen molecules in whatever state they are in do anything with heavy metals?  None of this is on the website.   On their “validation” page, they have big labels like “Horiba” that look like organizations thave somehow put their imprimatur on the study.  In fact, they are just names of analytical equipment makers.  It’s like putting “IBM” in big print on your climate study because you ran your model on an IBM computer.

SCAM!  Honestly, when you see an article written to attract investment that sounds sort of impressive to laymen but makes absolutely no sense to anyone who knows the smallest about of Chemistry or Physics, it is an investment scam.

But they seem to get a lot of positive press.  In my search of Google, everything in the first ten pages or so are just uncritical republication of their press releases in environmental and business blogs.   You actually have to go into the comments sections of these articles to find anyone willing to observe this is all total BS.   If you want to totally understand why the global warming debate gets nowhere, watch commenter Michael at this link desperately try to hold onto his faith in HydroInfra while people who actually know things try to explain why this makes no sense.

Years later, doing a Google search, I still seem to be the only person in the first 10 pages of Google results that wrote a skeptical article.  Seriously, I figured out this was all bullsh*t from about 60 seconds of studying their web site -- is this really what happens in tech journalism?  I got the same press release in my box that they did.  I (and many of the tech site commenters) figured this out quickly, why didn't any actual journalists?


Pronouns, "Quotation Marks," and Punctuation (oh my)

Dr. Mercury at Maggie's Farm supports my use of "they" as the gender-neutral third person pronoun English needs but does not have (though he includes a tasteless picture of a family member in distress).   But he wants to make it clear that I am 20 years late in joining the revolution.  So be it.   I will add that I am also on board with putting punctuation outside of "quotation marks".  For anyone who has done a lick of computer programming, in which resolution order of mathematical symbols is a key part of early training, putting sentence punctuation inside of quotation marks makes no sense.  Quotation marks are like parentheses in math, holding together one coherent expression, and so putting sentence punctuation inside them (as I did in the title) is, to me, the equivalent of this:   (2 + 4 x) 8 = 48

There was a great little book a while back called the Professor and the Madman, discussing the origins of the Oxford English Dictionary.  While the French dictionary is constructed top-down by a few folks to describe what French should be, the OED was constructed bottom-up from actual examples of usage, describing English as it is actually used.

By the way, for those of you who are horrified by the grammatical mistakes on this site (I know my friend Tom in Seattle pulls his hair out over this), they come mainly from my inability to proof, not lack of knowledge or concern.  I have some sort of mental dyslexia that can read right over horrible typos and gaffes, even four or five times, without spotting them.

PS:  Looking back at my title, I suppose we could even get into an Oxford comma argument too.

Mommy, Mommy, I'm Scared

Via the environmental blog Thin Green Line:

Check out this post on Bay Area Moms revealing that products with high fructose corn syrup contain mercury. Scary!

I have had some experience working with recreation on lakes that have mercury-contaminated fish  (not good for business) so I thought I would check out the articles.  Mommy Files blog here.  Advocacy group quoted here.  Actual study here.  Test results here.

This strikes me as being right at the focal point of where both the environmental and consumer protection movements went off the rails -- the issue of relative risks.  In short, risks for things with scary names (mercury and radiation being two great examples) cannot seem to be processed rationally.  Everything is toxic, at some concentration.  The key is understanding concentration and relative risks, and not panicking when anyone yells "mercury" in a crowded grocery store.

Before I get into this more, it is a little hard to discuss because I can't really find in the study or the advocacy press releases what forms the mercury take in the HFCS -- it may be they just don't know yet.  The form the mercury is in matters.  Most people would be surprised, but while pure liquid mercury is not good for you, but it isn't particularly toxic when compared to other forms  (just ask Sir Isaac Newton, who used to drink the stuff).  Mercury vapor is really bad, as are certain chemical derivatives of mercury, such as the form often found in fish.

So here is some perspective on mercury concentrations, again remembering these standards often apply to specific chemical variants.  The US legal limit on fish is 1 part per million, or 1 ppm.    The legal US limit on mercury in water is 2 parts per billion, or 2 ppb.  One might think that means the mercury in water is more dangerous, but it is actually in a much less dangerous form (according to my imperfect understanding) than the mercury in fish.  However, it is assumed that one drinks more grams of water a day than grams of fish.  This does not entirely explain the 500-fold discrepancy -- my guess is that this is also a matter of attention, as drinking water standards and contaminants get much more headline plan than for fish (again, in part due to a general inability, particularly in the media, to sort through relative risks).

So then we have HFCS.  The worst test value was apparently in Quaker Oatmeal to Go, which had a value of 350 parts per trillion (ppt).  In other words, the worst sample found anywhere had a mercury level nearly 6 times lower than the federal drinking water standard (2 ppb = 2000 ppt).   What this means is that you would have to eat 63 pounds of Quaker Oatmeal to Go a day to have the same mercury risk as drinking 5 liters of water at the federal standard each day.  And that is the worst product.  Only 17 of 55 products tested had any detectable mercury at all, and only 7 had concentrations over 100 ppt.

Don't even get me started on fish.  8 ounces of fish at the federal standard would have the same mercury as 1,429 pounds of Quaker oatmeal.  The risks are not even in the same ballpark.  The oatmeal risk is three orders of magnitude lower than the fish risk.   I wonder how many of the moms who now quiver at giving their kids oatmeal still feed their kids lots of nutritious fish?

The right way to write this story is not "scary!"  The right way to write this story is "Hey, we found some mercury where we did not expect it, this bears further study, but right now the concentrations are so far lower than you would find in many other everyday foods you eat or drink that it's not worth worrying about.  If you really want to protect your kids from mercury, stay away from fish."

Postscript: I lament the passing of sugar in favor of HFCS.  So often food activists gloss over this issue, preferring to imply it is some kind of corporate conspiracy to give us worse food.  But in fact, the main blame for this shift lies entirely on Congress, which maintains absurdly high sugar tariffs and a continued blockade of Cuba that give us among the highest sugar prices in the world.  Faced with this reality, food manufacturers cleverly found an alternative.   I prefer good old sugar, and implore Congress to ditch corporate welfare for sugar manufacturers

The Wussification of America

From the Arizona Republic, presented without comment:

Phoenix fire vehicles, including some hazardous-materials units,
responded to a small mercury spill at Mountain Pointe High School
Tuesday afternoon. No one "complained of medical problems" or was
transported to a hospital, said Mark Faulkner, Phoenix Fire Department
division chief for the public affairs.

At about 1:30 p.m. a call came to the Fire Department about a
"dime-size spill of mercury" on the campus at 4201 E. Knox Road in
Ahwatukee Foothills, Faulkner said.

The mercury was in a science laboratory but how it spilled is unknown.
It could have been part of an experiment or possibly a thermometer
cracked, Faulkner said.

The Official End of Sanity

From Q and O:

CARMEL, N.Y. (AP) - It was quite a New Year's Eve at the home of
Richard Berger in Carmel - in Putnam County. Someone in the house broke
a rectal thermometer and the family called 911 around 10:30 to report
the small mercury spill.

Several dozen volunteers [the headline says 100] from the Carmel Fire Department responded to the house on Brookview Drive.

Fire Chief Darryl Johnson says mercury is a hazardous material that can cause stomach problems if inhaled.

Men wearing protective gear used wet sponges to clean up the puddle.

It was packaged and brought to the Carmel firehouse where the county health department will dispose of it today.

The Berger family was not hurt.

I remember breaking a few thermometers when I was a kid.  You took a piece of paper, creased it into a cup shape, and used the edge to pick up the little blobs without touching them.  I still seem to be alive today.  I am sure those little blobs are buried deep in some landfill now, a ticking time bomb for future generations.  And people wonder why gas prices are so high.  A country this panicky over a fraction of a gram of mercury will never let a new refinery get constructed.