Technology disappearing due to environmental concerns
or the fear of being sued

 

Burning brown coal in city apartments was a mess and good riddance to that. But some technology has been banished due to environmental or safety concerns, and the replacement is not what the original used to be. Here are some examples.

Chemistry sets
The old classical sets contained such chemicals as potassium permanganate, sulfur, powdered zinc, corrosive acids and bases, some even potassium chlorate. One could learn a lot about chemistry, its dangers and take an eye our of burn a hole in the floor in the process. Concerns over the safety of chemistry sets these day omit flammable chemicals, or contain them in such small amounts that they pose relatively little danger. The sets   may also lack heat sources, breakable glass, and strong acids and bases. There has also been concern over the possibility of chemistry sets being used to create illegal drugs or things that go puff, i.e., explosives. Many experts claim that these efforts "remove the fun and interest" from chemistry, rendering the sets bland and ineffectual. Truth be told, for the same fears I do not do demonstrations in general chemistry that involve smoke, flame and sound; the only experiments I still remember from elementary schools and which, possibly, made me interested in chemistry.

Light bulbs
The bulbs with the heated element are inefficient in generating light. It is smart to replace them with something more efficient. In 2008 there are many fluorescent replacements that screw into the existing fixtures and work just fine. But some still generate light of unpleasant or even harsh hue. Some come in instantly, but the several reflector types (PAR 38) that I tried, take several minutes to reach full intensity. As a result, I leave this light bulb on all the time, negating all the energy savings. Also, the ridge on the fluorescent PAS 38 is not as well defined and the tube falls out of a track light fixture. The tubes also contain traces of mercury, another environmental issue. It is likely that the energy saving light bulb of near future will not be the fluorescent version, but the light emitting diode version. 100-W light bulbs - as of January 1, 2012 they will not be available. In coming years the same will be true for the lower wattage units. (Note added January 6, 2013. The 100-W light bulb removal was delayed. It did not happen in January abut in October 2012.)

Light bulbs in automobile headlights
Ever wondered why some cars have really blinding headlights and whether they are legal? They probably are. For the most part the existing laws state that the headlight input power cannot exceed 55 W. With filament headlights and associated reflector this produced adequate road illumination, but at low beam was still fine for the other drivers. The filament bulb has low efficiency. If high efficiency sources are used and 55 W of input is converted with 100 % efficiency into a light beam, one could burn the retina of the oncoming traffic drivers. Right now, such headlight would be still legal.

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Mercury batteries
They contained mercury, which ended in landfill, certainly not a good thing, as mercy is poisonous. But the cells based on the mercury chemistry had one excellent property - they had constant potential throughout the life of the cell. Such cells were used in instruments as a calibration source or in cameras and exposure meters. For instrument calibration, electronic circuits have been developed that work better that this cell. Likewise, in modern cameras, electronics stabilizes any fluctuation of the batteries. However, some nice cameras, such as Minolta SRT 101, without any electronics, hit the dust. True, there is a replacement zinc battery, but it is not what it used to be.

Mercury
Very interesting technological material. It is metal, therefore conductive, and yet liquid at room temperature. Many interesting devices were made using mercury. Much of its use, including electric switches and thermometers was relegated to history. The problem of course is that mercury from these devices eventually finds its way into environment and it is poison in that context.
(News from December 5, 2012: Channel 10 News of Tampa Bay reported: "Boca Ciega, Florida -- A chemistry project caused a big problem at Pinellas' Seminole High School Tuesday morning. The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office says students were given an assignment to bring in a substance from the Periodic Table of Elements. One student brought in mercury -- contained within a thermometer -- and the school went into lockdown. Deputies say the thermometer was discovered as the substances were checked before going through the school. No one was put in harm's way, but a hazmat crew was there as a precaution."

Lead
Sale of house paint containing lead has been banned so many years ago in the US (1978) it really makes me wonder what is the deal these days (2008) with children exposed to lead in their backyards. The issue has been recognized thirty years ago, so how come it was not remedied yet. Lead should not be in household paints as chronic exposure to it, in particularly in children, is not healthy. It is the dust that comes out from the aging chalking paint. Children eating flaking chips of poisoned paint is probably poetic license. Any child doing that probably eats other equally unhealthy stuff and has it coming. There is good exterior and interior paint that does not have to contain lead. However, from chemistry point of view, lead based primer for steel and iron, discovered many many years ago, was indeed superior material for corrosion protection. Plumbers (Latin for lead: plumbum)  used lead for water pipes, in modern times lined with tin. This of course causes some leaching of lead into water. Because the water pipes coat inside with scale from water hardness, the exposure to lead is minimal. It certainly makes sense to replace lead pipes with safer materials while doing repairs or reconstruction, but there is some indication that during targeted removal of lead pipes by municipalities the lead contents in water goes up as the pipes are disturbed and fresh metal is exposed to water. There is still a lead battery in each automobile. There is no economical alternative, so it cannot be banned. Lead in some materials still makes it to the USA in imported products. Lately, it seems that toys have been found with lead in them. In one case, the toy had three times as much lead in it as the EPA permits. Sure, it makes it illegal to be sold. However, this level will not make it deadly on contact. The true concern would be toys made from lead. There was an acute poisoning leading to death when a 4 year old boy swallowed metallic charm that was mostly made from lead.

Asbestos
It was cheap, very useful material, as it is not flammable, has filament structure and can be nicely bond with concrete. It was used a lot in construction. The filaments, when they turn into dust, retain needle like structure and the dust collects in the lungs and over period of time causes irreparable damage. Mining and processing of asbestos causes many early deaths.

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Scepter Jerry Cans
Excellent tough plastic can for fuel and also for water. Probably the best can to carry extra fuel without being concerned about a spill during transport. Manufactured in Canada, made to military specifications, sold to military and also, up to December 31, 2007, to the private sector in the USA. The problem in the USA is that the original spout did not meet regulations of several states regarding gasoline emission from the can, during filling. Scepter developed a spout for this can, but ultimately, as it was becoming difficult and expensive to discern which state required which spout, Scepter decided not to supply the cans to the general public in the USA at all. The paradox is that the various available gasoline plastic cans for gasoline do not travel well in a trunk of a car and often leak and the vapor leak proof spouts, while viable on paper, trap vapor, but because they are awkward to use, lead to spills.

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At some point, not sure when, the tins with a flip off hinged lid disappeared. It might have been as far back as 2005 (this is written December 2012). I was lucky  enough not to cut myself often, so I still relied on the old Johnson and Johnson tin I had home and never noticed the conversion to paper boxes. If you go though lot of bandages, they are fine. But the box was great to provide some protection for the Band-Aids that would last well beyond the stated expiration. Mind you, they would crush and they certainly rust, but I would be happy to pay a premium for a metal box, if placed next to the cardboard selection.

Light bulbs
So it seems that finally, on January 1, 2013 the 100-W incandescent light bulb in the USA will be no more. More precisely, no more will be manufactured or imported and only old stock will be available for sale. In a way, it was a bit of letdown to find in spring 2012 that the 100-W light bulbs were still available. The original legislature scheduled the ban a year earlier, January 1, 2012. I was not sorry to bulbs were still available; I was sorry I hoarded them last year. Now, I forgot I had them and I hoarded another set.
    I like what new technology brings and I was always looking for ways to save on electricity, so when my house was built, I had lot of fluorescent bulb and tubes put in my house, to the dismay of the builders, who though this was good for warehouses, but not for living spaces. In fact, the tube fluorescent lights with a magnetic ballast are more efficient than the new LED lights.  Still, I like light bulbs in some applications. They are kinder on my eyes for reading in task lamps. And the new Philips LED, which I like very much is is labeled as quiet, hums in my ear when I have it in a task lamp. So, back to an incandescent. 
    The restrictions will be gradual, each new year a new tier will be leveled. Saving energy is behind the move and considering that many households are in the habit of having many lights on all the time, the move is understandable. But its the new technology really that great? The light emitting diode bulb from Philips, Endura 17 Watt A21 is a real technological marvel and there is so much new about it, one could talk in chemistry or physics courses for ours, using it as an example and explaining the related processes. It will last 22.8 years. Now, here is another teaching opportunity. 22.8 years, that is a number given to three significant figures, so the manufacturers are certain in their statement, that it will last for sure 22.7 years, hopefully the promised 22.8 and maybe even longer. How did they arrive to such an exact number? They did not. The estimate of the longevity is in fact in hours, 200,000. This number has for practical purposes only one significant figure and consumer would be fairly tolerant, I believe, if the bulb conked out already at 190,000 hours.  It would be quite appropriate so say that the life expectancy is more than 20 years. Or 22, if you want two significant figures.
    But do we really need a bulb that lasts so long. If it is inexpensive, why not. If it is expensive as it is right now ($25-$45, depending where sold), longevity may not be such a good deal. First, what if after ten years some remodeling is desired and LED bulbs do not fit the new fixtures. Second, what about the large percentage of people who often move. Are they going to take the expensive bulbs with them? And are they going to wrap them well, or will number of the bulbs not survive the move. And third, consider the new German shepherd which is going to get to the table lamp and knock it over. Here, the longevity is lost.
    Energy embodiment. A mouthful of a word which means how much energy was used to make a particular product. It is a number, which is hard to get, but compared to an incandescent light bulb, the LED replacement certainly uses more energy in production. Even the protective case in which it is sold has more material in it. The calculations that can shed light on this issue indicate that over the life time of a LED compared to a lifetime of incandescent light bulbs (several, as more are needed), the LED consumes, counting energy used in production), uses 25% of energy. So, with the 20-plus years expected of an LED bulb, the break even in total energy use vs. a light bulb(s) is five years.
     What is next? The efficiency of a light bulb is 2 - 2.5 %. And paradoxically, though understandably from physics point of view, the higher wattage bulbs are more efficient.  The LED technology is fascinating, but one has to keep in mind that still only 8-12 % of electrical energy is converted to useful light. This is a small number, but much better, compared to an incandescent. But the physics and physiology of the human sight predicts, that the best whit LED could be only  38-44% efficient.

Lids that are not child-proof    Hurricane-Lamp-219x300.jpg (17149 bytes)P1030243 (Medium).JPG (54580 bytes)
     There is a reason to childproof what children should not get to, mostly for their own safety, I suppose. But consider what I found today (20121226) at the local Walmart. A hurricane lamp. If you do not know what it is, a generic picture is above. And the one offered at Walmart had on it, well advertised, a child proof cap where the kerosene would come in. It was Made in China and I am sure the cap was an add-on due to some mandate. Putting a child-proof fill cap on the kerosene tank has as much sense as childproofing a log next to a burning fireplace. For those, who are not familiar with hurricane laps, the bottom is filled with flammable kerosene (through the unscrewed lid) and through the middle is inserted a flat wick, which can be raised or lowered by simple wheel mechanism. The opening, through which the wick comes through, is fairly lose, for simplicity as well for reasons of operation. So, if the lamp is tilted or mishandled and turned upside down, the kerosene will flow through the wick opening fairly freely. Only if the child manages to keep the lamp upwards while unsuccessfully trying to unscrew the lid, all will be fine. Once the lamp falls, kerosene is all over the place and there goes the utility of the child proof lid. By the way, the above, relative benign scenario applies only to a lamp which is not lit. If the lamp is lit and an unsupervised child gets access to it, then the scenario that the cap gets somehow undone is probably the least worry.

Warranty if a leaked battery caused damage

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The early alkaline batteries carried warranty, to the effect that if leakage even damages a device, the manufacturer will replace or fix (their decision) the damaged item. It used to be written on the cells. No longer anymore and indeed, in this case such a warranty would be useful. (Added 15 Jan. 2013)

21 March 2008, note added 30 January 2011, 3 December 2012, 26 December 2012, 22 June 2015