Don’t Drink (or Eat) These….

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When we were kids, some of us wondered what a Milk Bone dog biscuit tasted like – and a few of us (me) went ahead and tried it. Others sampled Play-Doh (so tempting) or maybe those felt-tip pens that smelled like they’d taste good.


Well, here’s some stuff you probably have in your garage that you don’t want down your gullet:

Gasoline – 

It’s tempting to use your mouth to get suction going when you’re trying to drain fuel out of one container and get it flowing into another. But what’s good for your engine is not the ticket for your insides. Gasoline will burn your esophagus, stomach and intestines – if it gets that far. Probably, you’ll involuntarily chuck it back up, burning the lining of your throat (and mouth) a second time. If enough permeates your tissues, it can cause life-threatening damage to your heart, liver and stomach. If you need to siphon fuel, get the proper tool – which isn’t your mouth.  A manual siphon pump can be picked up for less than $30 at any auto parts store – much cheaper than a couple of days in ICU.

Gasoline fumes are also bad news.  They can knock you out – or (much worse) explode, if there’s an ignition source in the vicinity.  When raw fuel is present, make sure there is adequate ventilation – and make even surer there’s nothing around that might spark.

Paint –

One can work miracles with a can of the stuff when a proper compressor and spray gun aren’t available. But just because you’re not using a compressor and a gun doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be wearing a mask to keep from inadvertently huffing the stuff. The chemicals in aerosol paint are bad news – carcinogenic and (apparently) mutagenic. That’s bad news for you – and your potential progeny.  Always wear a mask when spray-bombing. And  try to work in an area with decent ventilation.

Battery acid (and gas)  –

Battery acid is obvious; everyone knows enough to not get the stuff on exposed skin – or exposed chrome or painted surfaces, either. Most modern batteries are sealed – but that doesn’t mean they can’t leak. Battery cases can crack. If you see signs of wetness around a battery, work carefully – and wear gloves. Rubber gloves (not permeable cloth gloves) that will keep the acid from contacting your skin. If some does get on your skin, immediately wash it off thoroughly with soap and lots of water.

Battery gas is trickier – because you can’t see it.  The chemical reaction inside the battery produces hydrogen gas. If there’s enough present – and you present an ignition source – the battery could literally explode in your face. It can and does happen. Which is why it is very important to be very careful when using cables to jump-start a car. In particular, try to avoid connecting both cables directly to the battery terminals. Connect the black (usually) ground cable to engine itself, or a metal bracket on the engine before you connect the red (usually positive) cable to the + terminal on the battery. This will help prevent a spark near the battery – and so reduce the chances of the battery exploding. Of course, always be absolutely sure  which terminal is + and which is – before you hook up the cables!

 Tip:  If you’re working on a vehicle with side-post terminals in tight confines (GM vehicles) take off your wedding ring before messing with the cables. The conductive metal of the ring could result in a short – and serious burns – if you accidentally touch the wrong thing.

Ethylene Glycol –

AKA, antifreeze. You are probably smart enough not to take a pull – but your dog or cat might not be. The stuff kills quickly – and horribly – if ingested, by shutting down your kidneys. Blindness is another fun side effect of consuming ethylene glycol. It’s easy to leave the stuff in places where animals (and even small kids) can get to it because it’s almost impossible not to maker a mess when draining a radiator or changing out a water pump. A really large catch bucket is good to have. Even better, lots of old towels to mop up any puddles. Hosing down the area where you worked is good policy, too. And if despite your best efforts someone – or something – manages to lap  up some of this stuff, get them to the ER as fast as your wheels can carry you.

Throw it in the Woods?  

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  1. Dear Eric,

    A tinny aeon voice inside my overhead fluorescents told me this would be safe from archons here.

    One more thing is in its right place, so thank you.

    Metropolis scene from the 1927 German expressionist science-fiction by Fritz Lang and his wife Thea Von Harbou

    Music Lyrics

    Kid A, Kid A, Kid A, Kid A
    Everything, In its right place. Yesterday I woke up sucking a lemon. Everything, everything. There are two colours in my head. There are two colours in my head. What is that you tried to say? tried to say. Everything in its right place.

    Radiohead. Radiohead.

  2. Glycols are poisonous (for the kinds that are) in a similar way to many other alcohols, not so much from the first chemical ingested but from highly toxic intermediate chemicals made by the liver while trying to handle it. The liver uses basically the same process for all these alcohols. As our gut bacteria always produce a little ethyl alcohol anyway on an ordinary diet, maybe as much as a single glass of beer spaced out over a day, evolution has made us better able to cope with its intermediate chemical – and for those of us with African, European or western Asian ancestry, evolution has also put in a special trick to prevent that intermediate chemical from ever building up very much (we produce it much more slowly than the liver breaks it down to end products).

    Anyhow, what that all means is that ethyl alcohol is the antidote for poisoning by other kinds of alcohol. Take enough of that on top, and your liver will be handling too much of that to process much of the other alcohol, so its intermediate chemical will only build up slowly – which gives your kidneys time to flush out a lot of the original poisonous alcohol before your liver gets round to turning it into the main poison. You’ll mainly just get the poison from the ethyl alcohol, which is lot more survivable because evolution made us that way.

  3. Attaching one end of battery cables to the engine or frame is apparently a great way to fry the bearings in your engine/transmission if your body/ frame/ engine ground wires are poor or broken. Heard this from a transmission rebuilder.

  4. Brake fluid is deadly to animals too and they are attracted to the sweetness as with ethylene glycol.
    A friend who had an auto shop one time forgot about a pan of brake fluid left on the floor after he bled brakes.
    He arrived at work the next morning to find his Belgian Shepherd guard dog dead on the floor. Poor Max. That tore us all up for a long time.

  5. Is there even a car made after 1985 that doesn’t have an anti-siphon device in its filler tube? My old Dodge vans use red balls. Seeing the picture of a New Yorker trying to suck gas out of his late model car made me wonder at the futility of it.

    • Remember Gunny Robert E. Lee Ermey’s line in the movie FULL METAL JACKET?

      “Are you queer Boy? I’ll bet you could suck a golf ball through a fifty foot garden hose.”

  6. Had an unusual experience with a battery in my 87 Isuzu Trooper – apparently the battery shorted or the regulator failed, boiling the battery mostly dry on my way to work. When I got in to go home, I turned the key, the engine turned over for a fraction of a second then BOOM – the battery came apart in a major way. I was safe from the shrapnel inside the car, but I would not have wanted to have this happen with my face hovering over it.

    • I’ve seen similar (explosions) and it is amazing how much force these things can deploy.

      I’ve been switching over to glass matt batteries – they cost more, but the performance is superior and they don’t – can’t – leak.

  7. A few years ago we had a break-in out behind the cable company office. We had a stash of batteries, coax, aerial construction materials, etc (typical stuff you’d see in any utility company yard). We found a melted battery and ground rods laying in the yard. It was fairly easy to find the perpetrators, just called the hospital to see if anyone had been to the emergency room to take care of chemical and other burns.

    Turns out the guy was carrying batteries and ground rods at the same time. The ground rod (copper clad steel) shorted across the battery and began to heat up, melting the battery case (and likely burning the “victim”).

    Remember that a lead-acid SLA battery can produce essentially infinite amperage in the case of a dead short. They are not to be taken lightly. Fusing helps, but because of the draw when starting an engine it isn’t practical to fuse when it’s installed in an automobile.

  8. Late on night in Miami after smoking a joint my roommate and I realized that there were no munchies in the apartment. Not wanting to risk venturing out while stoned we stumbled upon an unopened box of dry dog food. After reading the label and discovering that it was “good for puppies too” we laughed and munched away. A week or so after our late night munchout the media carried news that a disease afflicting dogs was probably carried in dry dog food that contained ground bone from cattle (c. 1972).

    GULP! My memory fails at the moment but it might have been mad cow disease.

    I’ve heard it said that Gawd protects children, drunks, and fools. For me it is surely true since I have frustrated the Reaper for 76 years now.


      • Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday
        Who could hang a name on you…

        *sigh* There were many “Ruby Tuesdays” in my life. Was it really so long ago?

        ‘Fraid so.


    • You and me both!

      I did eat ‘dem Milk Bones… kind of like a stale, grainy cookie as I recall. I also ate some canned cat food once, Back in the Day….

    • Dog food is often bad for cats because they can’t handle some of the preservatives dogs can, and it is bad for people whenever it contains jagged shards of bone that chew up our insides but which are good for dogs – it’s Russian Roulette for us, with unknown odds.

      • I wouldn’t feed my dogs dog food. Aside from poor quality control, it’s usually more expensive than family packs of chicken thighs or pork chops. I watch the sales, my dogs eat raw bone in meat along with all the horseshit they want.

        Anyone interested in healthy dogs should look at the Bones And Raw Food (BARF) diet. Dogs are omnivores so you can’t just feed them raw meat, they need the gut content of herbivores as well. Horse manure works pretty well if you keep horses, if not you can supplement with a good quality kibble.

  9. Great post Eric. One thing though: when jump starting a car / truck / motorcycle make both connections on the dead / low battery first keeping the other end of the jumper cables separated. Next, connect the positive (+, red) lead first at the good battery’s + terminal, THEN connect the negative (-, black) cable at the engine or some other grounded component well away from the battery. This way the nearly inevitable arc at the point connected last, which completes the circuit, will occur at the connection point farthest from the battery. Once the disabled vehicle is running, reverse the process disconnecting the negative lead at the remote point first, thereby breaking the circuit and preventing a potential explosion (which happened to my sometimes electrically challenged dad on his tractor) due to the arc at disconnection. The way you wrote it up in the article will have the arc occurring at the battery terminal itself, which is what I’m sure you were trying to avoid. Don’t feel bad, I’m a bit lysdexic too. 😉

  10. Good Lord! Doesn’t anyone know better that to chug of huff this? Damn deadly. What prompted this PSA-(Peters Safety Announcement)?

    • PS: for the uninitiated, dogs love ethylene glycol and it will kill them deader than a post. Keep it *very* far away from children too.

      • The cat family is unable to taste sweet substances as we, dogs, and most other mammals can. As a rule I have never found a cat that was the least bit interested in antifreeze; in fact, they usually stay far away. The stuff probably has a weird smell to them. That said, better safe than sorry.

        California and a few localities in other states require embittering agents in ethylene glycol–based antifreeze. This makes perfect sense and the cost is virtually zero. Perhaps it should be the rule nationwide.

    • Hi. Industrial hygienist here, to thank Eric for a short but vital article. Two points I make every day;

      1)Though possibly better than nothing, an incorrect or ill-fitting “mask” will not do much to save you from your own self. At minimum while spraying paints, cleaning brake parts with ‘perc’ or using the gallon dip-can of methylene chloride you should wear a properly-fitted half- or full-face respirator with P-100 (formerly HEPA) / Organic Vapor (OV) combination cartridges, changed once per day, minimum. These are widely available at home improvement stores, there is simply no excuse not to own and use one. Serious conventional lacquer or enamel spraying additionally requires a pretty good ventilation system, while isocyanate-catalyzed paints require supplied-air respiratory protection. Seriously. Don’t spray that stuff without it.
      2)If you have a house with an attached garage, vapors from all of this stuff could end up in your house, causing indoor air quality problems or worse. Best to store the stuff in an outbuilding, next best in tightly-closed containers in a well-ventilated (e.g., not pressurized) garage. Also, maintain the seal at the bottom of the door leading to the house.

      • My shop is attached to my house and I ran my ATVs for their 1/2 hr monthly run to keep battery and fluids maintened, and I went into and out of the house a few times during this period. Later that afternoon my house carbon monoxide alarm went off. Both the fire department and gas company respondants explained to me the situation. Embarrasing.


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