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News Story
Updated: 09/23/2012 08:00:37AM

. . . And a pinch of arsenic

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S.L. Frisbie

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As best I can remember, it started with cranberry sauce.

It was several decades ago that scientists announced they had discovered that some fertilizer, herbicide, pesticide, or mosquito repellant made cranberries — and their highest and best use, cranberry sauce — a health hazard.

The presence of this sinister substance, we were warned, could cause cancer, dandruff, hives, ingrown toenails, premature gray hair, or some such malady. The details are vague in my memory.

When was this announcement made? A few days before Thanksgiving, of course, when 97.36 percent of the American production of cranberry sauce is consumed.

Sure, I made up the number, but at least one of the digits is probably close.

A few weeks later, it was discovered that cranberry sauce would not kill you after all. Sorry about that, cranberry farmers.

Not many years after that, it was apples. They might keep the doctor away, but the coroner was another question.

A few weeks later: Oops! Apples were okay.

Bob away, Halloween partiers.

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The latest health scare is arsenic, especially in rice, including the rice used in making baby food.

There may or may not be too much arsenic in our food supply, critics say, because the federal government has not decided just how much arsenic is safe to sprinkle on your breakfast cereal.

It is hard to believe that the government has failed to regulate anything, let alone the amount of arsenic that is okay in our food.

But I guess it’s more important to fret over how many pollutants can be emitted from gasoline, which varies based on whether we are talking about California or the Eastern 49. Okay, 48 without Hawaii. Or 47 without Alaska.

———

Having stared death in the face by eating cranberry sauce and apples, I refuse to give up Rice Krispies.

Mine was the generation that never asked how much lead was in paint. In fact, I worked with melted lead for a decade or two before American newspapers discovered offset printing.

As far as I can tell, it caused no adverse effects, unless you count that third eye in the middle of my forehead.

In my high school science class, a favorite activity was to get the bottle of mercury from the science teacher and use your bare fingers to coat a silver coin (dime, quarter, or half dollar) with the stuff to bring it to a luster that was impossible to achieve with silver polish.

And then we would marvel at how the coating faded to a dull gray overnight.

Today, a broken thermometer is an environmental disaster.

I suffered no remarkable consequences, other than the fact that my right ear twitches uncontrollably whenever I study a map of the solar system and am reminded that Mercury is now the smallest planet, ever since they decommissioned Pluto.

I was not consulted about that decision, incidentally, and suspect that it violates some federal statue forbidding discrimination against a Heavenly body based on its size.

Yeah, I am glad that there are food scientists to save us from our own unwise gustatorial excesses.

In New York, they have even decided how big a cup of soda pop (a fine old Southern term) you can buy to go with with your quarter-pounder with cheese, fried mozzarella sticks, and a super size order of fries.

Got to watch those soft drink calories, right?

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(S. L. Frisbie is retired. He recalls the classic military anecdote of the mess officer — typically a second lieutenant, and rarely the sharpest crayon in the box — whose mess hall was written up for “Too many flies in the mess hall.” His classic response to the inspecting officer, according to legend: “How many flies are we allowed, Sir?”)




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