Tarry for the Nonce

February 20, 2006

A Pressing Idea

Filed under: Science — lmwalker @ 2:46 pm

A teenager has figured out how to kill anthrax:

Through a project for a statewide science competition, Central Catholic High School senior Marc Roberge discovered truth in the urban legend that ironing can kill anthrax spores in contaminated mail.

His findings will appear in the June edition of the Journal of Medical Toxicology, which publishes peer-reviewed research papers. It is an accomplishment usually reserved for Ph.D.-level scientists and physicians . . .

For his experiments — conducted in the family’s Highland Park home and at Central Catholic in Oakland — Marc Roberge did not use actual anthrax.

“The government might have had a little problem with that,” he said.

Instead, he substituted a more heat-resistant but harmless bacterial spore from the anthrax family that scientists often use as a surrogate.



  1. Actually, if you read the whole article, he didn’t figure anything out. He just tested a known fact from the Soviet era germ warfare department, with a little inspiration from good ‘ol dad…

    On Oct. 12, 2001, a former Soviet germ warfare specialist told members of a U.S. Congressional committee that people could use a hot steam iron through a moist layer of fabric to kill anthrax spores in mail.

    This comment spawned debate about whether conventional household irons would work against the deadly agent. During a CNN interview four years ago, a reporter asked Dr. Roberge if the report was accurate.

    “My response was to her was that high heat could kill anthrax, but I didn’t know if a household iron would work, since no studies had been done,” he said.

    Roberge discussed the topic over dinner that night with his son, who decided to investigate it for his Academy of Sciences project, required as part of his Advanced Placement biology course.

    Its not all that sensational, considering the effects heat has on bacteria. Afterall, the pasteurization process for dairy products has been successfully used for years. The significance of the story is not that he did repeatable experiments using different settings of the iron and tested the results while using a “more heat resistant” bacteria; rather the significance lies in the fact that the results will be published in a journal normally reserved for those who have achieved a Doctor of Philosophy in Toxicology. Of course, it helps that his dad is a toxicologist and had research published in the journal, as he most likely knows the process by which such research would be published.

    The other aspect of the story is the anthrax scare tactics [fear] the media is trying to play the public on, and the fact that the story indirectly makes the people who received anthrax letters seem, in retrospect, somewhat pathetic. However, I’ll take note of it in case I am ever in a situation where I need to kill anthrax…happens all the time…why just last week…. ;oP

    Comment by Andrew P. — February 20, 2006 @ 3:56 pm

  2. I read the same article you did. It’s still novel that the kid took the time to prove it and publish it.

    No scientific advancements would be possible without the existent body of work.

    Comment by laura — February 20, 2006 @ 5:29 pm

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