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Answer Line: Static electricity in blankets mostly harmless

By Jo Lee Ferguson
Jan. 26, 2011 at 7 p.m.


QUESTION: What causes blankets to have static electricity, and can it be dangerous? Recently, I noticed sparks coming off a couple different blankets at my house, and I was worried it might catch on fire.

ANSWER: It sounds like the blankets in your house are way more exciting than the blankets in my home, but you have little reason to worry.

Longview Fire Marshal Johnny Zackary told me there's typically no fire hazard in this type of situation unless the static electricity comes in contact with vapors from a natural gas leak or propane or gasoline vapors, for instance. So, you know, don't go testing out the static electricity on your blankets next to a gas pump.

As for the cause of static electricity, I found a couple of websites run by the really smart people of the world that explained this for me (including the Library of Congress website). Basically, static electricity is the result of objects collecting extra protons or electrons as they rub up against other objects.

That creates an "imbalance" (protons are positively charged, and electrons are negatively charged), and those extra positive or negative charges are just itchin' to get balanced out. They do that in the same way they hitched a ride in the first place - basically when "circuit is completed" when one object rubs up against another.

And that, my friends, is about all the science I can handle for one day.

(ANSWER LINE EXTRA:

Zackary noted that electric blankets are a whole separate issue from static electricity. They can pose a hazard if they are not cared for properly and used according to their guidelines, or if other items are placed on top of them.)

Q: When you see signs on a highway that tell you how many miles to a city, where is that mileage measured to? Is it the center of town or the courthouse?

A: Thank you so much for asking this question. I've often wondered this myself, but it would be weird for Answer Line to ask Answer Line a question, don't you think?

Anyway, our trusty local spokesman with the Texas Department of Transportation, Larry Krantz, had an answer for us.

Those distances are measured to the midpoint of a city, based on the edge of city's limits at the time.

That means, of course, that if a city annexes additional land those distance signs could be off a little after a while.

Q: What is state Rep. David Simpson's mailing address?

A: Send mail to Rep. David Simpson, P.O. Box 2910, Austin, TX, 78701.

(SIDENOTE:

Thanks for your sweet comments to Answer Line.)

Q: The expression "don't look a gift horse in the mouth" came up during the holidays. What is the origin of that expression?

A: Can I get away with just saying it's a really old expression? It's so old, in fact, I didn't find a specific date.

Here's what I did find, though, in the "Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins," at our friendly neighborhood Longview Public Library.

(SIDENOTE:

This particular trip to the library was highlighted by my toddler announcing loudly to everyone that he had to use the bathroom as he ran from the reference area to the facilities in the children's area. So much for being quiet in the library.)

The Morris folks said this is one of the "oldest known proverbs to man," with a reference to it recorded in Latin writings by Saint Jerome way back in 420 AD.

A horse's age has traditionally been estimated by looking at its teeth.

"So, it has always been considered poor manners to inspect the teeth of a horse that has been given to you," the Morris Dictionary says. "By extension, it means that you shouldn't inquire too closely into the value or cost of any gift."

-E-mail questions to answerline@news-jour nal.com, leave a message at (903) 232-7208 or write to P.O. Box 1792, Longview, TX 75606.

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