Is the smell coming out from a portable dehumidifier safe? and to a lesser extent Blue Silica Gel more harmful than the orange ones? are two recent questions that ask for advice on the toxicity (or lack thereof) of certain compounds.

It's certainly "safer" and more objective/cut-and-dried to answer on a chemistry site that something has toxic properties, compared to offering someone treatment advice if they ask on a biology site about a health concern that they are experiencing, as the latter is normally shut down quickly. However, to the extent that dosages and periods of exposure may be critical to advice that we would give, are we better off not providing any more information than a link to an MSDS or inviting the person asking the question to seek advice from a practitioner that knows his/her history better?


2 Answers 2


I'd go with sticking to hypotheticals with an understood disclaimer that nothing here should ever be regarded as medical advice - linking to and extrapolating from existing safety information seems reasonable but possibly off-topic in some cases. Getting specific and individual about personal dosages or exposure times is probably not a good idea, and should probably be closed and/or responded to with, as you say, "consult an expert/medical practioner". Also, I'd say it's much safer to present a solid negative than a solid positive.

For example, you can quite readily say, "Yes, in general eating batteries is not a good idea, due to the fact that they may contain heavy metals like cadmium (safety sheet link), which are toxic, and also that stomach acids (primarily HCl) will not decompose packed graphite. I can't possibly comment on your specific situation."

But probably should avoid saying things like, "Yes, in principle taking silver colloid orally in large but non-toxic doses to intentionally give yourself argyria could be safe as long as you avoid very strong sunlight, but I can't possibly comment on your specific situation."


I'm a medical practitioner, so happy for these questions to get forwarded to me if you like. In terms of what we should and should not be answering in general, I'll have a think, but what @Aesin just said about having a disclaimer and only answering hypotheticals is entirely appropriate.

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    $\begingroup$ Sorry, SE doesn't work this way. You can't ask incoming off-topic questions to be directed to somewhere else. $\endgroup$
    – M.A.R.
    Apr 20, 2016 at 19:00

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