Could you stomach a whole car?

Published Sep 4, 2000


If a huge vat were filled somehow with human stomach acid and a car dropped in, would it dissolve? Assume the vat doesn't dissolve.

The hydrochloric acid of the human digestive process is so strong it will easily eat through a cotton handkerchief and even through the iron of a car body, says Isaac Asimov in his Book Of Facts.

The stomach walls themselves are protected by a thin film of sticky mucus. In one actual case, says Daybreak magazine of the University of California-San Francisco, a penny swallowed four days earlier by a two-year-old was found riddled with holes and an ulcer had developed where the coin was lodged.

Most swallowed coins pass harmlessly, but in some cases the metals react with the acid to form toxic substances that cause inflammation. Curiously, American pennies minted after 1982 - of mostly zinc - have been found to cause more stomach damage than earlier ones - 95% copper, only five percent zinc. Coins made of nickel do little harm in this way.

Send your questions to Bill and Rich Sones at

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