What was once good is now bad | AspenTimes.com

What was once good is now bad

Su Lum

I remember when asbestos was such a good thing it was recommended (maybe even required) for schools and industrial buildings and used regularly in sidings covering private homes. Asbestos siding – that was something to brag about.Asbestos didn’t get hot and didn’t catch fire and was the miracle flame retardant in the ’50s. It was sprayed on the ceilings and pipes of cellars and boiler rooms and other hotbeds of conflagration. Most of us owned asbestos pot holders and gray asbestos pads to set hot frying pans and baking dishes upon.Asbestos is now, as we’ve all been told, BAD.Lead is bad. When I was growing up, lead was good. The foot-long strips of silver tinsel on our Christmas trees were made of lead; the heaviness of lead made them hang perfectly from each bough, unlike the flimsy equivalent now called “rain.” The lead strips were carefully flattened, smoothed and saved from year to year (a war was on, nothing could be wasted). The occasional hopeless knot of tinsel was fair game to be chewed – tastier than the tinfoil that wrapped sticks of gum (a rare commodity).Our toothpaste and ointment tubes were made of lead and when you rolled those suckers up to get out the last drops, they stayed rolled.Now everything is plastic and the day will probably come when plastic is found to be the leading cause of death. My daughter Skye warned me that heating food in plastic containers in the microwave could be hazardous to my health, so the death of plastic (and microwave ovens by implication?) may come sooner than I guessed.One of my few memorable moments in junior high came when our science teacher, with great fanfare, took a crock out of her cupboard and had the class gather round while she demonstrated the amazing qualities of mercury.The first thing Mrs. Judsen did was pass the crock from hand to hand, to show us how heavy it was, and indeed we were impressed by the heft of what might have amounted to half a cup of mercury.She lifted the lid and we peered at a substance unlike anything we had ever seen – not quite liquid, not quite solid, quivering at the bottom of the crock. We were not instructed to fear it, but, rather, to respect it for its unique qualities and its rarity. Not every kid in America got to see half a cup of mercury, also known as quicksilver.She dipped a portion out on the table and whacked it with her ruler, shattering it into 100 little balls, then herded the balls with the ruler and they all sucked together as if drawn by a magnet and coalesced back into a pool of mercury the size of a quarter which she returned to the crock and the crock to the cupboard. I fell in love with mercury and wanted a crock of it of my own. For the next couple of years my mother despaired over the number of thermometers I managed to accidentally break as I accumulated my mercury stash, which, in the end, amounted to two or three treasured secret teardrops, liberally laced with shards of glass, a source of endless entertainment and considerable pain.Some might say that I am living proof of the hazards of these substances, but I’ll just say I blame it on plastic. Su Lum is a longtime local who thinks life is full of oft-exaggerated perils. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times.


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