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Currency

Another Strike Against Osmium

On the podcast last week, we heard why — if you're looking for something to use as money — none of the elements on the periodic table work quite as well as gold.

That was disappointing for our own David Kestenbaum, who had dreams of an osmium standard. Such a pretty blue-gray metal, the densest of the elements!

Our expert bumped osmium because it's too rare — comes in on meteorites, or some such.

But it turns out there are a few other reasons that osmium money wouldn't be such a good idea. They include (but are not limited to) pulmonary edema and blindness.

Planet Money reader Peter H. writes:

Dear David,

I know you were rooting for osmium in the Tuesday podcast, and I am sure you're disappointed, but I need to warn you, that you may have chosen an element more dangerous than lithium.

Besides being really rare, osmium reacts with oxygen in the air at room temperature (77 F) and oxidizes into a gaseous compound.  In addition to this meaning you lose some of your precious osmium, the resultant compound (Osmium tetroxide) is incredibly toxic.  Even small amounts can cause pulmonary edema (if you breathe in the gas) and/or blindness (if it gets in your eye).  It can also pass through plastic and fabric, so if you keep an osmium coin in your pocket, you'll likely be significantly shortening your lifespan.

Chana, Adam, Alex, et al., do not let David talk you into buying osmium! He already talked you into a toxic asset and a gold coin that's about to plummet in value.  Don't get fooled a third time.*

*Past performance is not an indication of future value.  Investment may lose value.  Not liable for any poisoning deaths.  Not insured by any government agency.  Not guaranteed to be more toxic than a mortgage backed security.

Best,

Peter H.

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