From Aug. 1, 1996 issue:
Matt:Do you know if it’s harmful to smell a fart? Does inhaling the odor really mean that you inhale actual particles of the stuff? How does it compare to, say, sniffing a solvent? — Bart Polin, San Diego
Relax, Bart. The research elves found no medical treatises on fart-related illnesses or injuries, fart-borne pathogens, or public health warnings about chili cook-offs. Strictly speaking, yes, you’re inhaling bits of the fartogenic substance, but just the volatile odor molecules. Unpleasant, not deadly.
From Aug. 15, 1996 issue:
Dear Matthew Alice: This showed up on our company e-mail — timely, considering your response to the question [about the potential danger of inhaling a fart]. “A terrible diet and a room with no ventilation are blamed for the death of a man who was killed by his own gas.... His diet had consisted primarily of beans and cabbage.... It appears that the man died in his sleep from breathing from the poisonous cloud that was hanging over his bed.... The man was shut up in his near airtight bedroom. He was ‘a big man with a huge capacity for creating [this deadly gas].’ Three of the rescue workers got sick and one was hospitalized. ” — Mike Farrell, Carlsbad
And before there was e-mail, this twaddle was faxed from office to office. Before that, snail mailed. The natural history of an urban legend. We really want to believe ’em, even though we know they’re pretty improbable. Methane makes up only a small fart part, and only about a third of the population has the right intestinal flora to produce methane. True, farts have exploded during surgery involving electrocautery, but I still say nobody ever died from inhaling ’em. But truth has little to do with urban legends. Or e-mail, for that matter.