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Plazak via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

When Work Drives You Mad: Tales From the Deadly "Loony Gas" Building

Plazak via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

We’ve all had those days where work has driven us to the brink of madness. At least, we think we have. The workers at the Standard Oil Refinery in Bayway, New Jersey, would be less than impressed with our dramatics.

In the 1920s, this particular plant began producing tetraethyl lead (TEL), a compound that made car engines stop knocking. Forty-nine men were assigned to work in the TEL building, and shortly thereafter, 32 of them were hospitalized for conditions including severe moodiness, extreme insomnia, convulsions, deliriousness, and memory loss. Not fatal, but strange enough for workers to coin the term “the Loony Gas Building," making jokes about undertakers and bidding colleagues farewell after accepting an assignment in the TEL wing.

Then, on Thursday, October 23, 1924, TEL worker Ernest Oelgert started hallucinating, and complained to coworkers that he was being persecuted. The next day he ran around the plant screaming about “three coming at me at once.” He died the day after that. Oelgert was followed in death by four more workers—one became so violent that he had to be placed in a straitjacket just to be removed from his house. And this was all less than a year after TEL production began.

Standard Oil chalked up the high occurrence of madness to their employees’ work ethics: “These men probably went insane because they worked too hard,” a spokesman told The New York Times.

Luckily, the state of New Jersey disagreed with the company and ordered the plant to be shut down. An investigation revealed similar problems at other plants producing the compound—two DuPont workers had died at a Dayton, Ohio, facility not long before. Investigators also discovered that Standard Oil supervisors had recommended halting production after noticing the erratic behavior of their employees.

Standard Oil didn’t care. In fact, they held a press conference where Thomas Midgley, the engineer who discovered that TEL would prevent engine knocking, washed his hands in a bowl of the stuff to prove how safe it was. “I’m taking no chances whatever,” he said, “Nor would I take any chances by doing that every day.” Several months later, he took an extended vacation to Europe to be treated for lead poisoning.

As a result of the investigations and a recommendation from New York State Chief Medical Examiner Charles Norris, several states did ban the sale of leaded gasoline. Unhappy with the loss of sales, Standard Oil, DuPont, and other gasoline manufacturers went straight to the top, asking the federal government to make a ruling instead. That ruling favored big business, and leaded gasoline production resumed, albeit with new safety regulations to protect the workers.” It wasn’t until 1996—70 years later—that leaded gas was banned in the U.S. entirely.

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Animals
Owning a Dog May Add Years to Your Life, Study Shows
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We've said that having a furry friend can reduce depression, promote better sleep, and encourage more exercise. Now, research has indicated that caring for a canine might actually extend your lifespan.

Previous studies have shown that dog owners have an innate sense of comfort and increased well-being. A new paper published in Scientific Reports and conducted by Uppsala University in Sweden looked at the health records of 3.4 million of the country's residents. These records typically include personal data like marital status and whether the individual owns a pet. Researchers got additional insight from a national dog registry providing ownership information. According to the study, those with a dog for a housemate were less likely to die from cardiovascular disease or any other cause during the study's 12-year duration.

The study included adults 40 to 80 years old, with a mean age of 57. Researchers found that dogs were a positive predictor in health, particularly among singles. Those who had one were 33 percent less likely to die early than those who did not. Authors didn't conclude the exact reason behind the correlation: It could be active people are more likely to own dogs, that dogs promoted more activity, or that psychological factors like lowered incidences of depression might bolster overall well-being. Either way, having a pooch in your life could mean living a longer one.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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Live Smarter
Not Sure About Your Tap Water? Here's How to Test for Contaminants
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In the wake of Flint, Michigan's water crisis, you may have begun to wonder: Is my tap water safe? How would I know? To put your mind at ease—or just to satisfy your scientific curiosity—you can find out exactly what's in your municipal water pretty easily, as Popular Science reports. Depending on where you live, it might even be free.

A new water quality test called Tap Score, launched on Kickstarter in June 2017, helps you test for the most common household water contaminants for $120 per kit. You just need to take a few samples, mail them to the lab, and you'll get the results back in 10 days, telling you about lead levels, copper and cadmium content, arsenic, and other common hazardous materials that can make their way into water via pipes or wells. If you're mostly worried about lead, you can get a $40 test that only tells you about the lead and copper content of your water.

In New York State, a free lead-testing program will send you a test kit on request that allows you to send off samples of your water to a state-certified lab for processing, no purchase required. A few weeks later, you'll get a letter with the results, telling you what kind of lead levels were found in your water. This option is great if you live in New York, but if your state doesn't offer free testing (or only offers it to specific locations, like schools), there are other budget-friendly ways to test, too.

While mailing samples of your water off to a certified lab is the most accurate way to test your water, you can do it entirely at home with inexpensive strip tests that will only set you back $10 to $15. These tests aren't as sensitive as lab versions, and they don't test for as many contaminants, but they can tell you roughly whether you should be concerned about high levels of toxic metals like lead. The strip tests will only give you positive or negative readings, though, whereas the EPA and other official agencies test for the concentration of contaminants (the parts-per-billion) to determine the safety of a water source. If you're truly concerned with what's in your water, you should probably stick to sending your samples off to a professional, since you'll get a more detailed report of the results from a lab than from a colored strip.

In the future, there will likely be an even quicker way to test for lead and other metals—one that hooks up to your smartphone. Gitanjali Rao, an 11-year-old from Colorado, won the 2017 Young Scientist Challenge by inventing Tethys, a faster lead-testing device than what's currently on the market. With Tethys, instead of waiting for a lab, you can get results instantly. It's not commercially available yet, though, so for now, we'll have to stick with mail-away options.

[h/t Popular Science]

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