How Ignorance Will Make You Sick

Danger–rant ahead.

I’ve just finished watching a segment on WGN TV that’s pissed me off so badly I can’t see straight. is a gimmick marketing website for the Blendtec Total Blender. If you haven’t herd of this one, chances are you’ve been living in a cave as they seem to be everywhere lately. Will It Blend? features video clips of a variety of gadgets and household items being pulverized by the Total Blender. The videos are a YouTube hit, and a favorite of guy blogs such as

When the crew showed up on WGN’s morning news program today, I watched a cell phone blended to dust along with a coffee cup and a working flashlight.

Pretty harmless, right? Until you remember that cell phones, cell phone batteries and ordinary flashlight batteries have toxic chemicals and heavy metals in them. The WillItBlend demonstrators released toxic particulate matter from these blending stunts into the air when they unceremoniously dumped the results of the blending out onto the table in the WGN studios. Neither the host or the guys working the blender wore any kind of face mask to protect themselves from the toxic contents of cell phone and flashlight batteries.

When the guys blended the flashlight, the camera moved in to get a closeup of the action, and there was dust clearly emitting out of the blender. I wondered how these guys would feel if they could get the results of a chest X-ray in the next few months, or how sick the unfortunate camera person for WGN is going to become after getting a nice whiff of all that vapor from the toxic matter.

I know what you’re thinking at this point–that I am probably overreacting. Nobody will get sick. Right?

Unfortunately, I write this from the benefit of my own experience.

A similar situation happened to me when I was a reporter for the Far East Network in Japan back in 1994. I was shooting a news story about two Navy guys who had invented what they believed was a safe way to recycle aerosol cans. The story centered around an invention that allowed recycling crews to insert a can of spray paint into a cylinder with a custom-designed lid which safely punctured the can with no danger to the user.

The problem was, when these cans get punctured, any contents still under pressure can escape into the air. When I shot the story, at least five cans were punctured as a demonstration of the invention. I got to inhale spray paint, solvents and other fumes in a poorly ventilated area, and got violently sick later on as a result.

I felt vaguely poisoned for the better part of a week and realized that I’d been a victim of my own ignorance and that of the geniuses who invented the spray can puncturing device. That incident did me a huge favor once I got over feeling ill–it raised my awareness of how we pollute our environment and ourselves without even understanding what’s happening.

You can never be too careful when it comes to toxic chemicals, heavy metals and other contaminants. I believe the well-intentioned WillItBlend folks are reckless and irresponsible for their indiscriminate destruction of batteries, cell phones and other items which contain poisonous matter.

If I worked on the staff of WGN during that demonstration, I’d be strongly tempted to sue on the basis that such irresponsible activities put my health in danger in violation of OSHA standards. At the very least, I’d refuse to be on set for the duration. It’s easy for me to say that, since I don’t actually work there. But I can’t think of anything worse than being told that I had been poisoned as a result of the buffoonish activities of what amounts to a PR campaign for a frickin’ BLENDER.

I don’t expect this little screed to make much of a splash, but it would be nice if it raises the awareness level for at least one person out there. When you are on the job behind the camera, microphone, or just scribbling notes for your write-up later back at the office, be aware of the potential dangers you face on the job. There are plenty of things lurking out there that can “get” you when you aren’t paying attention. Too many writers, reporters and camera crews have learned this the hard way. Don’t let it happen to you. Situational awareness is one of the most important things you take with you to the gig, no matter if you are shooting, reporting or anchoring.