One of the things that comes with electronics and other sensitive equipment are those desiccant bags. It's the kind of thing you pick out of the box, glance at and throw away. Curiously, they always include the phrase "Do not eat," as though at some point somebody either tried to eat it whole or (more likely) placed it in hot water to make Desiccant Tea.
Other than its odd spelling (one s and two c's) I don't know too much about desiccant. I don't know exactly what desiccant is, but I know enough not to eat something that comes packaged in a box that contains a camera lens. It's one of my guidelines.
It turns out that there are a lot of desiccants that can be eaten. Salt is a desiccant, as is rice, potassium and magnesium. Pretty much anything that absorbs water is a desiccant. I think the one in this bag is silica gel - which is a solid (another mystery) - and according to what I've read, silica gel is not biodegradable in either water or soil. So, how is that environmentally non-toxic, I wondered quietly to myself.
I went to the company's web site that manufactures the desiccant, but it's in Chinese and all I could glean from it is that desiccant packages seem to be their chief product. I find it odd that America can't get a better grip on the packaged silica gel market. The Chinese are kicking our butts.
Silica was used in World War I for the absorption of vapors and gases in gas mask canisters. The substance was in existence as early as the 1640s as a scientific curiosity. (Strangely, it remains a curiosity in 2011 - at least to me).
In World War II, silica gel was indispensable in the war effort for keeping penicillin dry, protecting military equipment from moisture damage, as a fluid cracking catalyst for the production of high-octane gasoline and as a catalyst support for the manufacture of butadiene from ethanol, feedstock for the synthetic rubber program.
Now, the substance is used in cat litter and in small packages for keeping stuff dry. Progress.