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Mmmm! Sulfur!
October 14, 2005 3:36 PM   Subscribe

What would happen if you ate a book of matches?

Don't worry. If the answer to this question is, "You die horribly," I am not intending to off myself. This is for a work of fiction. I want one of my characters to snatch a book of matches off of a bar, then chew and swallow it. I'm hoping, considering the amount of sulfur, this would have medical consequences. If so, what would they be?
posted by brundlefly to Science & Nature (27 answers total)
 
From a quick google search for the LD50 of sulfur:

"Sulfur is known to be of low toxicity, and poses very little if any risk to human and animal health (1, 8). Short-term studies show that sulfur is of very low acute oral toxicity and does not irritate the skin (it has been placed in EPA Toxicity Category IV, the least toxic category, for these effects). Sulfur also is not a skin sensitizer. However, it can cause some eye irritation, dermal toxicity and inhalation hazards (8).
When taken orally, it has a mild laxative action (1). It may cause irritation of skin and the mucous membranes. Sulfur is considered a skin and eye irritant (1, 2, 3, 4). Acute exposure inhalation of large amounts of the dust may cause catarrhal inflammation of the nasal mucosa which may lead to hyperplasia with abundant nasal secretions. Trachiobronchitis is a frequent occurrence, with dyspnea, persistent cough and expectoration which may sometimes be streaked with blood (5).

Sulfur was reported to have a rat oral LD50 of greater than 5,000 mg/kg (3, 10); and greater than 8,437 mg/kg (5). Another source reported an acute oral LD50 of greater than 5,000 mg/kg for 51.1%, 97%, and 98% sulfur. Also, there were no deaths of rats fed 98% sulfur at a single dose of 5,000 mg/kg (6). The intravenous rat LDlo (Lethal dose, low. The lowest dose which causes death in test animals.) was 8 mg/kg (5). The dermal LD50 for rats was greater than 5,000 mg/kg (3). The acute inhalation LC50 for 98% sulfur in rats is greater than 2.56 mg/l; and greater than 5.74 mg/l for 80 % sulfur (6).

The oral LDlo for sulfur in rabbits was 175 mg/kg (5). The acute dermal LD50 in rabbits was greater than 2,000 mg/kg at 51.1%, 97%, and 98% sulfur. Also, there were no deaths of rabbits fed 98% sulfur at a single dose of 2,000 mg/kg (6, 10). A rabbit eye irritation test indicated all irritation had cleared 6 days after 98% sulfur was administered (6). The intraperitoneal LDlo was 55 mg/kg for sulfur in guinea pigs (5)."


Of course, matches contain other chemicals, like red phosphorus, powdered glass, and potassium chlorate.
posted by odinsdream at 3:56 PM on October 14, 2005


Just for comparison, the LD50 of table salt in rats is only 3,000 mg/kg.
posted by odinsdream at 3:58 PM on October 14, 2005


It would probably give you a nasty stomach ache. But yeah, sounds like it probably wouldn't kill you.

Than again, in Like Water For Chocolate, eating matches causes you to spontaneously combust.
posted by statolith at 4:09 PM on October 14, 2005


Probably the worst thing that will happen is that the staple will scratch the enamel on your teeth, causing an early cavity.
posted by b1tr0t at 4:21 PM on October 14, 2005


Well, shoot. I was hoping for something more dramatic. The "mild laxative action" may have possibilities, though.
posted by brundlefly at 4:31 PM on October 14, 2005


Sodium chlorate and potassium chlorate are frequent ingredients in mouthwashes and gargles, and are also used in matches and weed killers. The heads of 20 large wooden matches contain 330 mg. The chlorates are water-soluble and act as strong oxidizing agents, forming explosive mixtures with organic material.
The fatal dose is about 15g for adults and 2g for children, but no fatalities have been reported in recent years. Chlorate ion is irritating to mucous membranes in concentrated solution; after absorption it produces methemoglobinemia by virtue of its oxidizing properties. However, the chlorate is not reduced in the process, but acts as a catalyst, so that a small amount of chlorate can produce a large amount of methemoglobin.
Pathologic findings in deaths from chlorate are gastrointestinal congestion and corrosion, kidney injury, liver damage, and chocolate color of the blood.
Chlorates should never be taken internally. They should be replaced in mouthwashes and gargles by less harmful drugs.

--from Handbook of Poisoning, a Lange medical text.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 4:33 PM on October 14, 2005


For the sake of fiction, one could invent an older book of matches containing some more potent ingredient. This could open up vignettes for (a) the cheap bar owner who is saving cash by dispensing a cheaply-acquired 50-year-old backlot of matchbooks and (b) the rational of the company that produced such medically troublesome matchbooks 50 years ago.

This work of fiction isn't due to Nanowrimo, by any chance?
posted by cortex at 4:56 PM on October 14, 2005


My brother ate a book of matches when he was a child, with only mildly ill effects. As my mother always tells it, this was a week after he had eaten half a pack of cigarettes.
posted by Rumple at 4:57 PM on October 14, 2005


So was it your brother or your mother blowing smoke out their ass?
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 5:11 PM on October 14, 2005


cortex: As a matter of fact, yes. Consider this preemptive research. I've written nary a word yet. Don't you worry. Also, you've given me some good ideas! I promise you'll be in the acknowledgements when my novel is published to universal acclaim! Right.

Are you running the Nanowrimo gauntlet as well?
posted by brundlefly at 5:56 PM on October 14, 2005


O noveling brother, I meant no implication of wrong-doing. I merely wanted to establish whether or not to engage in the Secret Handshake.

I only regret having given you those ideas instead of keeping them for myself. O fortuna!
posted by cortex at 6:11 PM on October 14, 2005


How about the possiblity of an allergy to sulphur? Nah...
posted by Carbolic at 6:17 PM on October 14, 2005


How about a sudden bout of homesickness betraying his forgotten demon heritage?
posted by cortex at 6:37 PM on October 14, 2005


In the Army, for some reason, medics recommend eating a book of matches to keep the mosquitoes off. I don't see how that would work but I know two guys who swear by it.
posted by 517 at 6:56 PM on October 14, 2005


In the book Sickened: A Memoir of Munchausen by Proxy, the narrator's mother regularly gave her matches to suck on, telling the kid they were "lollipops."
posted by youarejustalittleant at 7:05 PM on October 14, 2005


The "mild laxative action" may have possibilities, though.

My thought exactly :)
posted by scarabic at 7:18 PM on October 14, 2005


"How about the possiblity of an allergy to sulphur? Nah..."

Forget the sulphur, make the guy die from a paper allergy.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 7:25 PM on October 14, 2005


Obviously, heartburn.
posted by Pressed Rat at 7:40 PM on October 14, 2005


The antidote is sodium thiosulphate. Hypo. Photographic fixing agent. He's an avant garde photographer who drinks hypo to win match-eating bar bets that support his art.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:03 PM on October 14, 2005


517: Considering the novel is set in New Orleans, what with the surplus and aggresiveness of its mosquitos, that might be a good element to include. I'll have to think about that.
posted by brundlefly at 8:12 PM on October 14, 2005


What will happen if you eat a book of matches? Zip! My brother, cousins and I all ate them regularly "back in the old days" due to a ready supply from smoking parents and frankly, some brands actually had a better taste than others! I can remember the red ones were far better than the green or gray varieties. I know this sounds like an episode straight out of Wonder Years, but I'll bet there are thousands of reformed match eaters stil alive and kicking today. Bon appetit!
posted by thebarron at 8:59 PM on October 14, 2005


If the novel has a page 517, I'll consider it a shout out.
posted by 517 at 10:35 PM on October 14, 2005


The matches don't need to be poisonous. Simple have the character think they're poisonous and make themselves feel ill with worry, possibly triggered by comments from onlookers.
posted by malevolent at 3:17 AM on October 15, 2005


What if someone was keeping drugs with the matches? Tabs of LSD, perhaps, or, somehow, a couple of Es. Or an ounce of speed. Coke AND a razor blade.
posted by malpractice at 2:27 PM on October 15, 2005


Just for comparison, the LD50 of table salt in rats is only 3,000 mg/kg.

How the hell do they get these rats to eat 3x their own body weight in table salt (or sulfur)?


Also, sulfur was used as a way to cure wounds during world war I.
posted by delmoi at 7:36 PM on October 16, 2005


For the sake of fiction, one could invent an older book of matches containing some more potent ingredient. This could open up vignettes for (a) the cheap bar owner who is saving cash by dispensing a cheaply-acquired 50-year-old backlot of matchbooks and (b) the rational of the company that produced such medically troublesome matchbooks 50 years ago.

I don't think match technology has changed much in the last 50 years, other then using cardbord sticks.

I like malpractice's idea.
posted by delmoi at 7:43 PM on October 16, 2005


Also, sulfur was used as a way to cure wounds during world war I.

By cure I meant "antisepticize"
posted by delmoi at 8:29 PM on October 16, 2005


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