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How dangerous could glass dust be if it were aerosolized?


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I'm currently reading a novel (Sword of Truth - Book 6: Faith of the Fallen, by Terry Goodkind) in which an army utilizes glass dust as a weapon of war against an army vastly larger than theirs. Using only about two buckets worth of powdered glass, they release the dust into the wind at the opposing army, and ultimately it results in the death, blindness, or incapacitation of well over a hundred thousand enemy troops, whether by blinding them (permanently) on the field of battle and having them accidentally kill one another, destroying their lungs and respiratory tract, or causing serious infections therein.

 

I was just wondering whether there was any plausibility to this whatsoever? I have no doubt that if razor sharp microscopic shards of glass dust were flung into somebody's face, it would most likely be extremely serious. But does anyone know if simply releasing the dust into the wind and having it carry it throughout the enemy army would cause any noticeable effect at all outside of the book? Or is it just nonsense?

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I'm currently reading a novel (Sword of Truth - Book 6: Faith of the Fallen, by Terry Goodkind) in which an army utilizes glass dust as a weapon of war against an army vastly larger than theirs. Using only about two buckets worth of powdered glass, they release the dust into the wind at the opposing army, and ultimately it results in the death, blindness, or incapacitation of well over a hundred thousand enemy troops, whether by blinding them (permanently) on the field of battle and having them accidentally kill one another, destroying their lungs and respiratory tract, or causing serious infections therein.

 

I was just wondering whether there was any plausibility to this whatsoever? I have no doubt that if razor sharp microscopic shards of glass dust were flung into somebody's face, it would most likely be extremely serious. But does anyone know if simply releasing the dust into the wind and having it carry it throughout the enemy army would cause any noticeable effect at all outside of the book? Or is it just nonsense?

 

 

Sounds like nonsense to me, men breath silica for many years with no ill effects, (I should say immediate effects) eventually it will kill you... but it's not immediate enough to be used as a weapon of war. if the bits were a little larger it might have some effect but could it be spread on the wind if it was large enough to do real damage?

Edited by Moontanman
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Sounds like nonsense to me, men breath silica for many years with no ill effects, (I should say immediate effects) eventually it will kill you... but it's not immediate enough to be used as a weapon of war. if the bits were a little larger it might have some effect but could it be spread on the wind if it was large enough to do real damage?

 

The main damage that is was described the glass dust did was to 'get into their eyes, just as ordinary dust would. It would imbed in the tissue of their eyelids, and then every time they would blink to try and clear it away, they would simply be cutting their eyes even more badly until they were blind.', not verbatim. I know from personal experience how painful fiberglass dust can be if you get it on your skin, and it is certainly light enough to be carried by the wind. I could only imagine what it would be like to get it in your eyes.

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The main damage that is was described the glass dust did was to 'get into their eyes, just as ordinary dust would. It would imbed in the tissue of their eyelids, and then every time they would blink to try and clear it away, they would simply be cutting their eyes even more badly until they were blind.', not verbatim. I know from personal experience how painful fiberglass dust can be if you get it on your skin, and it is certainly light enough to be carried by the wind. I could only imagine what it would be like to get it in your eyes.

 

 

you may have a point, I'm not sure if silica dust equates to glass dust. Fiber glass might be a better model to base the idea on.

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If I remember that book correctly, the glass dust was specially (magically) shaped to not only be more jagged and lethal to eyes and lungs, but to also present more of a profile for catching air currents. Unless we could recreate that magic somehow, I doubt it would be nearly as effective. Also, you say "buckets" and that brings a certain type of container to mind. Iirc, they used wooden washtubs, considerably bigger, but still inadequate unless the glass was made more potent by magic, or advanced engineering I've never heard of.

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If I remember that book correctly, the glass dust was specially (magically) shaped to not only be more jagged and lethal to eyes and lungs, but to also present more of a profile for catching air currents. Unless we could recreate that magic somehow, I doubt it would be nearly as effective. Also, you say "buckets" and that brings a certain type of container to mind. Iirc, they used wooden washtubs, considerably bigger, but still inadequate unless the glass was made more potent by magic, or advanced engineering I've never heard of.

 

Actually, you're wrong about the magic part. They specifically stated that magic could not be used to enhance the lethality of or to shape the glass, or to assist in the delivery of the dust to the army, because if they did the Imperial Order's wizards and sorceresses would detect that magic and be able to shield against it. At any rate, I wouldn't think it would require any special tricks. Crushed glass is naturally jagged by definition, regardless of how small the pieces/particles are. And I think that if you got dozens of pieces of glass, regardless of how small they might be, imbedded under your eyelids, you would if nothing else be in incredible pain, and your natural instinct to rub your eyes would only make the damage all the worse. Blindness by even a few such particles seems theoretically plausible to me.

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Actually, you're wrong about the magic part. They specifically stated that magic could not be used to enhance the lethality of or to shape the glass, or to assist in the delivery of the dust to the army, because if they did the Imperial Order's wizards and sorceresses would detect that magic and be able to shield against it. At any rate, I wouldn't think it would require any special tricks. Crushed glass is naturally jagged by definition, regardless of how small the pieces/particles are. And I think that if you got dozens of pieces of glass, regardless of how small they might be, imbedded under your eyelids, you would if nothing else be in incredible pain, and your natural instinct to rub your eyes would only make the damage all the worse. Blindness by even a few such particles seems theoretically plausible to me.

Ah, you're right, I forgot about the non-magic requirement. It's been a while and that's a lengthy (but awesome) series of books.

 

Still, I remember thinking that it did quite a bit more damage than seemed reasonable. Not to the individual, I think it would be quite incapacitating to a person, but the sheer numbers that were affected seemed outlandish. I guess incredible luck is still not magic.

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Ah, you're right, I forgot about the non-magic requirement. It's been a while and that's a lengthy (but awesome) series of books.

 

 

I agree. Notwithstanding the massive plot hole of why Richard didn't just use the Power of Orden to end the war with the Imperial Order before it even begun in earnest, considering that the three Boxes of Orden were right there in 'his' palace in D'hara for most of the series, the series is one of the best I've ever read. But at any rate, it still seems to me that the glass dust idea could theoretically work if the dust was deployed correctly, although I agree that the sheer number of casualties in the book for such a small amount of glass powder was almost ludicrous.

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You wouldn't really want 'dust'. Silica dust won't hurt your eyes so much, but it will bind irreversibly to your lung tissue and eventually kill you. It certainly wouldn't incapacitate anyone on a battle field in the immediate sense, save a bit of coughing and wheezing. It's also quite light, so you would have a problem with effectiveness and efficiency.

 

Small glass shards might be more feasible.

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You wouldn't really want 'dust'. Silica dust won't hurt your eyes so much, but it will bind irreversibly to your lung tissue and eventually kill you. It certainly wouldn't incapacitate anyone on a battle field in the immediate sense, save a bit of coughing and wheezing. It's also quite light, so you would have a problem with effectiveness and efficiency.

 

Small glass shards might be more feasible.

 

That's exactly what they used. They essentially piled together buckets/tubs of glass items and shattered/grinded them into dust. This process would by definition make them sharp and jagged, albeit extremely small. If I'm not mistaken, silica and glass are not the same thing. Silica is essentially sand, if I'm not mistaken, and while sand is involved in the production of glass, sand itself is not the same as glass.

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Sand is not the same as glass. Crystaline silica is a known (but rather weak) human carcinogen. Glass isn't.

However I'm going to pretend that the difference is small (and, for acute toxicity, that's a reasonable assumption.

 

How many people would you kill with a bucket of sand?

My guess is practically zero.

Grinding it wouldn't help a lot. There's a fair amount of silica already present in dust (have a look at the composition of the earth's crust) and yet most of us are not dead.

 

Smoke from a bucket of burning sulphur would probably have more effect.

Edited by John Cuthber
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Sand is not the same as glass. Crystaline silica is a known (but rather weak) human carcinogen. Glass isn't.

However I'm going to pretend that the difference is small (and, for acute toxicity, that's a reasonable assumption.

 

How many people would you kill with a bucket of sand?

My guess is practically zero.

Grinding it wouldn't help a lot. There's a fair amount of silica already present in dust (have a look at the composition of the earth's crust) and yet most of us are not dead.

 

Smoke from a bucket of burning sulphur would probably have more effect.

The story isn't about silica or sand or even dust really. The group in the story took everything they had made of glass, placed it in wooden washtubs and then pounded it all into smaller and smaller pieces until they had it fine enough to float on the wind.

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The story isn't about silica or sand or even dust really. The group in the story took everything they had made of glass, placed it in wooden washtubs and then pounded it all into smaller and smaller pieces until they had it fine enough to float on the wind.

And my point was that ground glass is roughly as toxic as sand- ie not very. (Actually it's slightly less toxic)

Incidentally, does the story tell you what sort of gas masks they wore while they ground the stuff (and, indeed, why their enemies didn't have that option)?

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And my point was that ground glass is roughly as toxic as sand- ie not very. (Actually it's slightly less toxic)

So at the size it would need to be to be dispersed on the wind, are you saying ground glass wouldn't affect the eyes or lungs any more than normal sand?

 

Incidentally, does the story tell you what sort of gas masks they wore while they ground the stuff (and, indeed, why their enemies didn't have that option)?

The ones grinding the glass wore cloth around their mouths and noses, iirc, and some amount of care was taken not to distribute the ground glass amongst themselves (think big mortar and pestle with some kind of partial cover). The enemy supposedly didn't realize this was anything other than normal dust until the damage had been done. In the story they had no instantaneous means of communicating over long distances.

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"So at the size it would need to be to be dispersed on the wind, are you saying ground glass wouldn't affect the eyes or lungs any more than normal sand?"

That's exactly what I'm saying.

Both materials are hard and they both form fairly sharp edged broken bits.

I realise this isn't quite the same thing

http://www.snopes.com/horrors/poison/glass.asp

but it does show that there's a lot of cobblers talked about powdered glass.

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"So at the size it would need to be to be dispersed on the wind, are you saying ground glass wouldn't affect the eyes or lungs any more than normal sand?"

That's exactly what I'm saying.

Both materials are hard and they both form fairly sharp edged broken bits.

I realise this isn't quite the same thing

http://www.snopes.co...oison/glass.asp

but it does show that there's a lot of cobblers talked about powdered glass.

Well, another literary assumption gets ground to dust. Sorry Mr Goodkind, no shard, no bard.

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Wasn't that part of The Seeker series? Great books and decent TV show...

Yep. Although, imo, by this time in the series, I think it had gotten fairly preachy. On and on about people being responsible for their own happiness and freedom. Good sentiments, but several thick books whacking me over the head with it got tedious. And the morality got to be an issue, although an interesting one. After all, it was the good guys who came up with the idea of pulverizing glass to blind and destroy the lungs of the bad guys.

 

The first five or six books are among my favorite fantasy novels, though. Awesome story.

 

The TV series was a bit too Xena: Warrior Princess for me. I'd love to see what the producers of Game of Thrones could do with The Sword of Truth series.

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Yep. Although, imo, by this time in the series, I think it had gotten fairly preachy. On and on about people being responsible for their own happiness and freedom. Good sentiments, but several thick books whacking me over the head with it got tedious. And the morality got to be an issue, although an interesting one. After all, it was the good guys who came up with the idea of pulverizing glass to blind and destroy the lungs of the bad guys.

 

The first five or six books are among my favorite fantasy novels, though. Awesome story.

 

The TV series was a bit too Xena: Warrior Princess for me. I'd love to see what the producers of Game of Thrones could do with The Sword of Truth series.

 

 

It did have a strong D/s S/M flavor to it but I enjoyed Xena too. Have you ever read the Complete Book of Swords by Fred Saberhagen? Great series of books

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Books_of_the_Swords

 

The series is set in this universe

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empire_of_the_East_series

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