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Money: Far Less Green Than You Think

Posted by Christina B. Farnsworth

Apr 23, 2014 12:08:48 PM


★1923-1957 One Dollar Note ★ $1 Silver Certificate G-AU ★ Bill Blue US Currency★

Sometimes you read an article that makes your brain spin.

Such was the case, when a friend emailed me The Wall Street Journal article Why You Shouldn't Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is.

Writer Robert Lee Hotz spelled out the nasty story in gory detail. He wrote, “Talk about dirty money: Scientists are discovering a surprising number of microbes living on cash."

"In the first comprehensive study of the DNA on dollar bills, researchers at New York University's Dirty Money Project found that currency is a medium of exchange for hundreds of different kinds of bacteria as banknotes pass from hand to hand.”

Analysis of genetic material on dollar bills revealed “3,000 types of bacteria in all—many times more than in previous studies that examined samples under a microscope. Even so, they could identify only about 20% of the non-human DNA they found because so many microorganisms haven't yet been cataloged in genetic data banks.” In other words, researchers did not always know exactly what to call or how to identify what they found. It sounds like a universe lives on money.

The New York University researchers found that the most abundant bacteria caused acne. So forget chocolate; be careful how you handle money.

There was gunk on the money that had links to gastric ulcers, pneumonia, food poisoning and staph infections.

This last was the part that started my brain spinning. In 2008, I had a life threatening staph infection that hospitalized me in the summer of 2008 and had many doubting I would ever walk again. No one ever knew what had caused the infection. And once in the nursing home (where I spent another three months), things got even worse with a pulmonary embolism and another infection called Klebsiella. At one point, my infectious disease specialist said, "Your fate is in the hands of the cosmos," really -- and he wasn't kidding. Just before becoming ill, I had attended a family wedding and had flown home on a plane.

These days I am so pleased to be writing of this many years later in the past tense. But it's made me really cautious. No repeats, please.

Later, I learned that something like 42 percent of those tray tables on planes are infected with staph. And don’t even think about sticking your hand or anything else in the pockets on planes. Stories abound about the other yuck, such as Klebsiella on planes.

Post infection, I am admittedly somewhat paranoid. I carry little cash and in small bills so that I can pay the exact amount and not be forced to accept someone else’s dirty money. I always carry hand sanitizer and am one of those paper-towel handling toilet visitors and am reluctant to even touch elevator buttons.

But the article raised so many more questions in my mind. It seemed not to matter whether the dollars were cloth/paper base as ours are or plasticized polymer in some way as is true of some other currencies. Each kind held on to a variety of contaminants. Though plastic did seem better than paper.

Should currency be made from materials that could be treated with Microban or some other anti-microbial material? Should banks be required to sanitize money in some way (heat? UV light?).

Should we ditch papery currency for coins? How contaminated are coins and credit cards?

And credit card readers? Just think how many people handle our credit cards! Does anyone EVER clean those readers? How?

Years ago, we did not know too tight homes bred contamination or that we needed air exchangers and HEPA filters and the myriad of other things we use to make our homes green and healthy.

Is there economic viability for home credit-card and/or currency cleaners?  There are already UV light cleaners for tooth brushes -- should we have them for other personal items, too? We are already being urged to clean the screens on our smart devices, especially our cell phones. One Web site reports out cell phones are 18 times dirtier than a toilet seat.

The article talked about how the body heat from men’s wallets carried in pants or breast pockets served as petri-dish type incubator and increased contamination on tested money. Is there a role for wallet insulators or currency coolers or man bags? Women usually carry bags that keep currency away from body heat, but then there are other studies that show just how nasty women’s purses can get.

The NYU researchers used gene sequencing to analyze 80 $1 from an un-named Manhattan bank. The money had bacteria, viruses, fungi, plant pathogens, DNA from horse and dogs and “even a snippet of two of white rhino DNA.”

NYU genome researcher Julia Maritz told The Wall Street Journal that, “We had a lot of the spectrum of life represented on money.”

I’ve been given pieces of paper deliberately impregnated with seeds to plant on purpose. What would happen if we planted some money? What would grow?

Here is the chart of of the Lifecycle of Dirty Dollar Analysis

  • Total DNA found: 1.2 billion segments

  • Percentage human: 27%-48%

  • Bacterial DNA: 54 million segments

Sampler of bacteria identified:

  • Acinetobacter species:antibiotic-resistant infections

  • Staphyloccus aureus: skin infections

  • Bacillus cereus: food-borne illness

  • Bacillus cereus: food-borne illness

  • Eschera coli: food poisoning

  • Heliobacter pylori: gastric ulcers

  • Coroynebactrium diptheriae: diphtheria

  • Material: Cotton-linen blend.

  • Lifetime: 21 months

  • Weight: 1 gram. Since there are 454 grams in one pound, there are 454 dollar notes in one pound.

  • Bulk: 1 million dollar bills stacked in a square would measure about four feet tall, four feet wide and four feet thick.

  • Wear and tear: About 4,000 double folds (forward and backward) are required before a dollar note will tear.

  • Annual replacement: About 45 % of the notes printed each year are $1; 95% are used as replacement notes.

Sources: New York University, U.S. Federal Reserve System.
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