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  #1  
Old 03-17-2010, 07:56 PM
Captain_C Captain_C is offline
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There's rust on my tea kettle. How unhealthy is this?

I have a kettle on the stove I use to boil water for coffee, ramen noodles, etc. It appears to be made out of stainless steel. While cleaning it today, I notice that it is beginning to rust under the lid where the steam comes out.

How bad is this for my health? Should I be throwing the whole kettle out or will it still suffice for boiling water? If a little rust isn't going to be a problem, what then is considered 'too much rust'?
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  #2  
Old 03-17-2010, 08:20 PM
Bayesian Empirimancer Bayesian Empirimancer is offline
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Walk it off

It's probably harmless in small amounts, but in large amounts, it will be absorbed by the internal tissues and "electrocute" your organs. That's bad.
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  #3  
Old 03-17-2010, 08:26 PM
ivn1188 ivn1188 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Captain_C View Post
I have a kettle on the stove I use to boil water for coffee, ramen noodles, etc. It appears to be made out of stainless steel. While cleaning it today, I notice that it is beginning to rust under the lid where the steam comes out.

How bad is this for my health? Should I be throwing the whole kettle out or will it still suffice for boiling water? If a little rust isn't going to be a problem, what then is considered 'too much rust'?
Rust (iron oxide) isn't toxic. You'll be fine. Too much rust is "a hole in the kettle".

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Originally Posted by Bayesian Empirimancer View Post
Walk it off

It's probably harmless in small amounts, but in large amounts, it will be absorbed by the internal tissues and "electrocute" your organs. That's bad.
Seriously?
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  #4  
Old 03-17-2010, 08:29 PM
samclem samclem is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bayesian Empirimancer View Post
Walk it off

It's probably harmless in small amounts, but in large amounts, it will be absorbed by the internal tissues and "electrocute" your organs. That's bad.
Bayesian. You're a "noob" here. In General Questions, we expect rather more serious answers. Once the question has been answered, "joke" answers are pretty much ok.

No harm, no foul.

samclem, Moderator, GQ
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  #5  
Old 03-17-2010, 08:33 PM
ivn1188 ivn1188 is offline
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Just to clarify my earlier answer, by the way, it is possible to get iron poisoning, but it's tough. Usually happens with vitamins. The amount of iron leaching into your food from cast iron pans or a rusty kettle is going to be very small in comparison to the dose you would need for iron poisoning.
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  #6  
Old 03-17-2010, 08:42 PM
The Seventh Deadly Finn The Seventh Deadly Finn is offline
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Iron oxide has an LD-50 of >10000 mg/kg. So an average adult could likely eat a pound of it without serious consequences.

Moreover, if the sort of rust that forms on cookware were toxic, the chances are pretty good that we'd find something else to make cookware out of, like we did with pewter.
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  #7  
Old 03-17-2010, 08:45 PM
Starving Artist Starving Artist is offline
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What about the cumulative effect over time? I read years ago that rust or minute particles of metal, such as that created by running a knife over a sharpener or sharpening steel, get absorbed into tissues and stay there for the rest of your life, possibly resulting in a carcinogenic effect over time.

I don't know for a fact if that's true or not, but it's such a simple matter to wipe the blade and clean or replace the pot or pan once rust begins to show up that I always just do that.

I've also heard that pans with Teflon coatings, when they begin to flake off, become poisonous and should be discarded. Again, I don't know if it's true, but why take the chance? I just don't like the idea of ingesting metal or synthetic materials if I can avoid it.
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  #8  
Old 03-17-2010, 09:13 PM
TurboNuke TurboNuke is offline
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One of my favorite Mr. Wizard episodes was the one where he showed the form of iron that we eat. He took one of those huge boxes of corn flakes, mixed it with water and stirred it with a magnetic stirrer for hours. The result; a huge clump of iron filings. The iron you get in food is IRON.
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  #9  
Old 03-17-2010, 09:33 PM
ivn1188 ivn1188 is offline
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Originally Posted by Starving Artist View Post
What about the cumulative effect over time? I read years ago that rust or minute particles of metal, such as that created by running a knife over a sharpener or sharpening steel, get absorbed into tissues and stay there for the rest of your life, possibly resulting in a carcinogenic effect over time.
True, if you actually meant to say that the iron or steel is broken down and turned into useful things like red blood cells, and that people generally get cancer while they are living.

Our bodies are generally very very good at finding stuff that shouldn't be there and dealing with it in one way or another. Nutrients, especially. There aren't tiny metal particles hanging around in your body from your mom sharpening the knives when you were 3.
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  #10  
Old 03-17-2010, 10:42 PM
Chronos Chronos is offline
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The exception is if you're one of the 1 in 300 or so with hemochromatosis, a (usually hereditary) disease which causes the body to absorb iron much more efficiently than normal. In that case, you probably want to cut down on your dietary iron (in addition to giving blood frequently), which would mean not using cookware with exposed iron surfaces (especially rusty surfaces).

EDIT:
Quote:
One of my favorite Mr. Wizard episodes was the one where he showed the form of iron that we eat. He took one of those huge boxes of corn flakes, mixed it with water and stirred it with a magnetic stirrer for hours. The result; a huge clump of iron filings. The iron you get in food is IRON.
This is the case if it lists "reduced iron" in the ingredients list: "Reduced" basically just means "not oxidized", or in the metallic form. There are other forms iron can be found in in foods, though.

Last edited by Chronos; 03-17-2010 at 10:43 PM..
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  #11  
Old 03-18-2010, 01:02 AM
JoelUpchurch JoelUpchurch is offline
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When I was a kid, there was so much iron in the spring water that all the glasses were stained red. Didn't do us any harm, but we couldn't keep a drip coffee maker, but that may have been calcium, not the iron.
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  #12  
Old 03-18-2010, 01:07 AM
AClockworkMelon AClockworkMelon is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TurboNuke View Post
He took one of those huge boxes of corn flakes, mixed it with water and stirred it with a magnetic stirrer for hours. The result; a huge clump of iron filings.
Really?!

Quote:
Originally Posted by JoelUpchurch View Post
When I was a kid, there was so much iron in the spring water that all the glasses were stained red.
Really?!
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  #13  
Old 03-18-2010, 01:33 AM
EvilTOJ EvilTOJ is offline
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Easiest way to get rid of rust on stainless steel is to use BarKeeper's Friend. Rub it on as a paste, let it sit for a few minutes, scrub it right off. It also repassivates the steel so it isn't as likely to rust again.
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  #14  
Old 03-18-2010, 02:01 AM
seodoa seodoa is offline
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Originally Posted by AClockworkMelon View Post
Really?!



Really?!
Is it that hard to believe that iron is iron?

I too grew up in a home in which everything from the bathtub to the dishes to our clothing would get tinted red from rust in the water. I still hate the idea of doing laundry at my parents' because I don't want my nice white shirts to get stained.
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  #15  
Old 03-18-2010, 02:06 AM
AClockworkMelon AClockworkMelon is offline
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Originally Posted by seodoa View Post
Is it that hard to believe that iron is iron?
Not at all! It's the amount. I never thought that there'd be enough iron in a box of cereal to actually form lumps of the stuff. I'm not knowledgeable when it comes to food and nutrition, but I'd always sort of assumed that the amounts were VERY small compared to the actual volume of the food.

Quote:
I too grew up in a home in which everything from the bathtub to the dishes to our clothing would get tinted red from rust in the water. I still hate the idea of doing laundry at my parents' because I don't want my nice white shirts to get stained.
I've never heard of that. That's really fascinating. Is it from the local plumbing (as in, the pipes of the house) or is it basically like that for the entire local community? I don't know, it just seems like the sort of thing someone would complain about to the local utility companies or something.
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  #16  
Old 03-18-2010, 02:23 AM
seodoa seodoa is offline
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Originally Posted by AClockworkMelon View Post
Not at all! It's the amount. I never thought that there'd be enough iron in a box of cereal to actually form lumps of the stuff. I'm not knowledgeable when it comes to food and nutrition, but I'd always sort of assumed that the amounts were VERY small compared to the actual volume of the food.

I've never heard of that. That's really fascinating. Is it from the local plumbing (as in, the pipes of the house) or is it basically like that for the entire local community? I don't know, it just seems like the sort of thing someone would complain about to the local utility companies or something.
I'd imagine one of those huge boxes of cereal would have a couple hundred milligrams of the stuff. If this site is to be believed, it would work out to almost 350mg of iron per 43 oz box of Kellogg's Corn Flakes. Not a ton or anything, but more than enough to see. I am assuming 'huge clump' is a bit of hyperbole.

As for the house water. We lived in the country so there was no utility to complain to. Like most people who live in a rural area, our water was directly pumped from a natural aquifer.

Last edited by seodoa; 03-18-2010 at 02:23 AM..
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  #17  
Old 03-18-2010, 02:41 AM
MitzeKatze MitzeKatze is offline
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Originally Posted by ivn1188 View Post
Just to clarify my earlier answer, by the way, it is possible to get iron poisoning, but it's tough. Usually happens with vitamins. The amount of iron leaching into your food from cast iron pans or a rusty kettle is going to be very small in comparison to the dose you would need for iron poisoning.
This raises the question...If one is iron deficient would eating (and/or drinking) from rusty cookware be beneficial? What if one took to eating exclusively from rusty cookware, could they skip the iron supplements altogether?

I am prejudiced against iron supplements...nasty little things! Rusty food sounds like a viable alternative to me.
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  #18  
Old 03-18-2010, 02:45 AM
RadicalPi RadicalPi is offline
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Cecil has mentioned iron-fortified cereals at least once:

http://www.straightdope.com/columns/...n-iron-filings
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  #19  
Old 03-18-2010, 08:03 AM
Bayesian Empirimancer Bayesian Empirimancer is offline
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Originally Posted by samclem View Post
Bayesian. You're a "noob" here. In General Questions, we expect rather more serious answers. Once the question has been answered, "joke" answers are pretty much ok.

No harm, no foul.

samclem, Moderator, GQ
I wasn't joking. I probably should have explained better. For example, in the autosomal recessive disease Thalassemia, the blood is constantly being broken down; the only way to rectify this, other than bone marrow transplant, is to transfuse fresh red blood cells (RBC). The problem is, the RBC is still being broken down at a higher level than what is normal for an adult. If not transfused with RBC, the patient suffers from anemia and constant bone fractures. The side effect of the elevated levels of iron, sometimes enough that iron aggregates in the bloodstream. The body needs iron, but over the years of constant over-the-limit iron in the body, it will take its toll. Back before Desferal was invented for use as a iron chelator, blood transfusion was essentially a death sentence. But in normal adults, it's very hard to achieve the levels needed to cause serious damage. That said, it is still possible. Please read this link.

I am not a medical doctor, just someone with some colloquial knowledge.
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  #20  
Old 03-18-2010, 08:29 AM
Machine Elf Machine Elf is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Starving Artist View Post
I read years ago that rust or minute particles of metal, such as that created by running a knife over a sharpener or sharpening steel, get absorbed into tissues and stay there for the rest of your life, possibly resulting in a carcinogenic effect over time.
What have you read lately?

Quote:
I don't know for a fact if that's true or not, but it's such a simple matter to wipe the blade and clean or replace the pot or pan once rust begins to show up that I always just do that.
Easy enough to wash a blade after sharpening. However, while replacing cookware at the first sign of rust may be a simple matter, it isn't free. If one is budget-minded, then it makes sense to dig for the truth to find out whether the expense of a replacement policy like that is justified by the risks.

Quote:
I've also heard that pans with Teflon coatings, when they begin to flake off, become poisonous and should be discarded. Again, I don't know if it's true, but why take the chance?
Because it might not be true, and new cookware ain't cheap.

Quote:
I just don't like the idea of ingesting metal or synthetic materials if I can avoid it.
Metal? Check the ingredient list on common multivitamin pills. Here's what I found in Centrum:

calcium
iron
magnesium
zinc
copper
manganese
chromium
molybdenum
potassium
nickel
tin
vanadium

Lots of metals are vital nutrients. Some people take pills to get enough iron in their diets; all you have to do is drink tea from your rusty-ass tea kettle.

As for synthetic materials...if you're going to ingest one, Teflon is probably the best choice. Overtemping a non-stick pan is bad because it can generate toxic fumes, but if it's just flaking off of the pan (e.g. you used metal utensils on it), there's not much to worry about.
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  #21  
Old 03-18-2010, 02:24 PM
Chronos Chronos is offline
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Quote:
This raises the question...If one is iron deficient would eating (and/or drinking) from rusty cookware be beneficial? What if one took to eating exclusively from rusty cookware, could they skip the iron supplements altogether?
Yes, using iron or steel cookware is often recommended to people with low iron levels.
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  #22  
Old 03-19-2010, 02:50 AM
MitzeKatze MitzeKatze is offline
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Originally Posted by Chronos View Post
Yes, using iron or steel cookware is often recommended to people with low iron levels.
I've heard of recommending iron cookware (cast iron skillets particularly) but never heard of steel being recommended. I thought it was the iron leeching from the skillet itself as opposed to rust that was beneficial.

One doctor from my childhood specifically recommended liver cooked in a cast iron skillet. But of course it makes sense when you think about what rust is (duh). This is good to know as I do truly hate iron supplements.
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  #23  
Old 03-19-2010, 07:26 AM
Broomstick Broomstick is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AClockworkMelon View Post
I've never heard of that. That's really fascinating. Is it from the local plumbing (as in, the pipes of the house) or is it basically like that for the entire local community? I don't know, it just seems like the sort of thing someone would complain about to the local utility companies or something.
My current residence has a well. The water comes up naturally high in minerals (I keep joking we should slap a label in French on it and sell the stuff) and yes, our sinks and toilets and such accumulate orange/red stains from all the iron in it. I filter our cooking and drinking water, mainly for reasons of taste. The well is tested at least once a year and the water is fine, it just has a lot of dissolved minerals in it. Complain about it? Well, I suppose I could talk to God, but it usually doesn't have much effect.

It's nothing unusual for natural water supplies to have minerals like iron in them. Some communities will filter them out, but unless you have a metabolic disorder such as the previously mentioned hemachromatosis it's not harmful. Just, um, colorful and in some ways annoying.
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  #24  
Old 03-19-2010, 08:02 AM
Smeghead Smeghead is offline
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I happen to know more than I really want to about hereditary hemochromatosis, so I'm going to use this weak excuse to inflict my knowledge on everyone else.

The human body doesn't have any way to selectively excrete iron from the blood. We lose quite a bit in our poop, which contains a lot of old dead red blood cells, and women of course lose a lot during menstruation, but our iron levels are controlled entirely at the level of uptake. That is, our bodies can choose to absorb iron from our food or not depending on the levels of iron in our blood.

The main protein involved in sensing iron levels in our blood and communicating that information to the proteins that uptake iron is called HFE. It's a transmembrane protein, meaning that one end sticks out into our bloodstream and the other end is inside the cell (we're talking about the cells that line our gut here). The part that sticks out binds other proteins that, in turn, bind to free iron floating around. When it binds these proteins, it sends a signal to the cell that says, "Hey, we've got iron!". Each cell has lots of HFE, so the amount of signal is proportional to the amount of iron in the blood, and the uptake proteins adjust accordingly.

In hereditary hemochromatosis, the HFE protein functions just fine, but there's a mutation (actually there are two, possibly three) that's located at the spot where HFE binds a small polypeptide known as beta-2 microglobulin. This is a little protein that acts sort of like a postage stamp - if you bind B2M, that's a signal that you're supposed to get moved out to the cell surface. The mutant proteins aren't able to get out to the surface very well, which means they're not able to do their job, and the overall signal level drops in the cell. This essentially means that your gut cell proteins are constantly taking up iron, trying to make up for this perceived loss. This, in turn, means that your iron levels build up to a level that can damage organs and tissues over several decades. Boom.
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  #25  
Old 03-20-2010, 04:15 PM
JoelUpchurch JoelUpchurch is offline
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Originally Posted by AClockworkMelon View Post
Really?!

Quote:
Originally Posted by JoelUpchurch
When I was a kid, there was so much iron in the spring water that all the glasses were stained red.
Really?!

Really?!
Yes. There were iron ore deposits in the hills around our house. I remember roasting hot dogs on an outcropping by our house. My father claimed it could have been mined commercially if it had been closer to the Cumberland river.
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  #26  
Old 03-21-2010, 12:05 PM
BigT BigT is offline
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Originally Posted by MitzeKatze View Post
This raises the question...
(bolding mine)

Thank you.
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  #27  
Old 03-21-2010, 03:05 PM
Chronos Chronos is offline
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Quote:
I happen to know more than I really want to about hereditary hemochromatosis, so I'm going to use this weak excuse to inflict my knowledge on everyone else.
I, for one, found that interesting, and did not know it before. Most of the research I've done on the condition focuses on the family genetics on the one hand, and on the diagnosis and treatment on the other, but I never looked too deeply into the underlying mechanism.
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  #28  
Old 03-21-2010, 05:48 PM
Smeghead Smeghead is offline
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I used to work in a lab that tested for the causative mutations, and we had a presentation one day on the molecular biology that has always stayed with me for some reason.
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  #29  
Old 05-29-2012, 10:57 AM
david lister david lister is offline
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Originally Posted by Bayesian Empirimancer View Post
I wasn't joking. I probably should have explained better. For example, in the autosomal recessive disease Thalassemia, the blood is constantly being broken down; the only way to rectify this, other than bone marrow transplant, is to transfuse fresh red blood cells (RBC). The problem is, the RBC is still being broken down at a higher level than what is normal for an adult. If not transfused with RBC, the patient suffers from anemia and constant bone fractures. The side effect of the elevated levels of iron, sometimes enough that iron aggregates in the bloodstream. The body needs iron, but over the years of constant over-the-limit iron in the body, it will take its toll. Back before Desferal was invented for use as a iron chelator, blood transfusion was essentially a death sentence. But in normal adults, it's very hard to achieve the levels needed to cause serious damage. That said, it is still possible. Please read this link.

I am not a medical doctor, just someone with some colloquial knowledge.
Beautifully written reply, BE.
As to the response: Best not be calling people "noobs" (whatever that means), particuarly when one is not very well versed in the subject under discussion, don't you think?
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  #30  
Old 05-30-2012, 06:50 AM
Nametag Nametag is offline
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Originally Posted by Bayesian Empirimancer View Post
I wasn't joking. I probably should have explained better. For example, in the autosomal recessive disease Thalassemia, the blood is constantly being broken down; the only way to rectify this, other than bone marrow transplant, is to transfuse fresh red blood cells (RBC). The problem is, the RBC is still being broken down at a higher level than what is normal for an adult. If not transfused with RBC, the patient suffers from anemia and constant bone fractures. The side effect of the elevated levels of iron, sometimes enough that iron aggregates in the bloodstream. The body needs iron, but over the years of constant over-the-limit iron in the body, it will take its toll. Back before Desferal was invented for use as a iron chelator, blood transfusion was essentially a death sentence. But in normal adults, it's very hard to achieve the levels needed to cause serious damage. That said, it is still possible. Please read this link.

I am not a medical doctor, just someone with some colloquial knowledge.
The reply you gave in your earlier post suggests nothing like this. You mentioned nothing about a disease, and implied that in normal people, an excess of iron will "electrocute" the organs, which, even as a metaphor, is patently ridiculous. Since cooking in a rusty pot isn't going to cause excessive iron uptake in normal people (nor in most iron-related abnormalities, because rust isn't bioavailable), much less boiling water in a slightly rusted kettle, there was no possibility that your answer would actually be responsive to the question.
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  #31  
Old 05-30-2012, 07:56 AM
johnpost johnpost is offline
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zombie or no

it's not harmful, plenty of sensible statements above.
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  #32  
Old 11-12-2012, 06:46 AM
nammy1958@yahoo.com nammy1958@yahoo.com is offline
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I have a kettle on the stove I use to boil water for tea, While cleaning it today, it was rusty on the bottom of the teapot. It was discusting. MIKASA, Garden Harvest AZ007 Whistling Kettle from Thailand. I did a search of the teapot but came up with nothing. please help as I am having horrible pain in my legs everyday, could this be hurting me. I had went to the dr. before this about the pain in my leg and he said i had arthritis in my knee but only a little bit. the pain is not just in my knee it is all over my legs. I drink a lot of tea but I do not put the teabags in the pot, just the water.
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  #33  
Old 11-12-2012, 08:20 AM
Speaker for the Dead Speaker for the Dead is offline
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Originally Posted by nammy1958@yahoo.com View Post
I have a kettle on the stove I use to boil water for tea, While cleaning it today, it was rusty on the bottom of the teapot. It was discusting. MIKASA, Garden Harvest AZ007 Whistling Kettle from Thailand. I did a search of the teapot but came up with nothing. please help as I am having horrible pain in my legs everyday, could this be hurting me. I had went to the dr. before this about the pain in my leg and he said i had arthritis in my knee but only a little bit. the pain is not just in my knee it is all over my legs. I drink a lot of tea but I do not put the teabags in the pot, just the water.
No, rust is not the cause of your pain. In fact, several leg-pain syndromes, including restless-leg syndrome and nocturnal cramps, can be caused by iron deficiency. As described above, our bodies are good at simply not absorbing excess iron we ingest.
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  #34  
Old 11-12-2012, 08:26 AM
samclem samclem is offline
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Even though this one was started in General Questions, it's now better in IMHO, where anyone's opinion can be offered.

samclem, moderator
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  #35  
Old 11-12-2012, 03:05 PM
Sandra Battye Sandra Battye is offline
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Now that we've determined that rust isn't harmful, it is destructive. I have an inherited cast iron kettle that has been used for display. I'd like to use it but it is uniformly covered with rust inside. How do I boil water in it without adding to the problem? I don't want to put a hole in it. Do I just empty it when I'm done?
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