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Paul V. Coates -- Confidential File, Aug. 6, 1959

August 6, 2009 |  2:00 pm

Aug. 6, 1959, Mirror Cover

Aug. 6, 1959: Preston Sturges dies.

Confidential File

Here Is How Stupid One Can Easily Get

Paul CoatesAn old "fad" is making a comeback among Southern California teen-agers.

It's a seemingly harmless kick, but unless the kids are wised up, and fast, tragedy could very easily be the result.

The fad -- inhaling gasoline fumes and fumes from glue-soaked rags -- sounds ridiculously innocuous. But it isn't.

It can be as fatal as Russian roulette.

Just how widespread it has become, I don't know.

But I do know that during the last week I've received a few calls with the information that the kids are at it again.

Today, it was a letter -- from the mother of a 13-year-old junior high student. She stated that quite a few kids in the Norwalk area -- her own son among them -- are on the glue-sniffing jag again.

 Yesterday, a 14-year-old participant in a gasoline-inhaling "party" made the news by jumping in a 40-ft.-deep pit after becoming giddy on the fumes. He's still in the hospital, in serious condition.

Two years ago, when the glue-sniffing craze became so flagrant in the Bellflower area that kids were being hospitalized and parents were calling town meetings, I did some investigation on the actual dangers of the so-called kick.

Obviously, it's time to print what I learned again.

Aug. 6, 1959, Nikita Poll If the facts don't scare some common sense into the latest batch of recruits, then teen-agers today are a lot dumber than I think they are.

In '57 I took a 10-cent tube of glue -- the type the kids were using -- to be analyzed by Dr. Ralph Willard of the Hollywood Testing Laboratories.

His report was that it contained more than 50% benzene, a volatile fluid with a strong etherlike odor.

Every so often, you'll see stories in the papers about men dying while inside storage tanks or railroad tank cars which had contained certain fuels with high benzene content.

Cause of death: asphyxiation or heart failure from inhaling the fumes.

Then I checked with William Prillmayer, of the Los Angeles office of the Federal Food and Drug Administration. I asked him what other effects the kids could suffer.

He confirmed that either immediate death or permanent body damage was possible.

"One strong dose definitely could be fatal," he said. "Repeated use of benzene can cause the heart to vibrate itself practically to pieces."

He listed as possible complications from repeated small doses:

Depression of the central nervous system, weak heartbeat, gastric irritation, anemia and irregular muscle movement.

Prillmayer added that doses such as many of the teen-agers had taken, over a period of time, could dissolve the fat tissue of the body, which would then infiltrate into the bone marrow.

This causes a breakdown in the blood because it prevents new red corpuscles from being manufactured.

A Pretty Grim Picture

One physician explained to me:

"A person may go days or years afterward without suffering the effects -- and then, all of a sudden, have a complete breakdown."

Totaled together, the experts' reports paint a pretty grim picture.

But that's not the picture that the kids see. All they learn about it is from other teen-agers: that it's kicks. A few sniffs will send you up to Cloud 9.

Give them the facts, and I'm sure they'll limit their use of glue to making model airplanes.