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And no, I don’t mean heavy folio volumes falling off balconies or bookshelves toppling over. But next time you hear some reactionary curmudgeon rhapsodizing over the smell of printed books, just reflect:  That smell could kill you.

At least if you’re like Britain’s Kirsty Ashman, whose plight was reported in the UK Daily Mail – not renowned for its scientific accuracy, by and large. “Opening a book could kill me,” the headline reads. And the same story has been picked up elsewhere by sources such as the New York Daily News, so it probably is reasonably kosher, as far as it goes.

Ms. Ashman found that books triggered the same allergic reactions she experienced from pollen and other sources, and that eventually the problem became so bad that it put her in hospital, and eventually forced her to quit university and abandon the ambition to become an English teacher. What’s more, the older the book, the worse the problem was. “Older, dustier books trigger my allergies so fewer, newer books definitely minimises the risks,” the Daily Mail quotes her as saying.

If it wasn’t enough to have publishers restricting access to books, now we have printed books themselves hampering someone’s quest for knowledge. Seriously, this probably says quite a bit about underfunding and under-resourcing at UK universities. Why couldn’t they have provided her with a proper supply of course books as ebooks? The technology’s been around for long enough after all, and academia is supposed to be in the lead in terms of materials available online. Of course, there’s always the chance that the universities could put their students in danger of cramping of the index finger and the other health risks that ereaders are notorious for, but I think that Ms. Ashman for one would have braved that.

Anyway, there’s a problem that your Kindle or tablet won’t give you. Unless you’re allergic to touchscreens. Don’t carp: It could be a real problem for some. But at least you won’t have to inhale it.

 
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