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Since You Asked: Coins smell like blood money

I know money is filthy, but am I picking up any kind of metal contamination when I handle coins? After I hold change in my hand, there's a strong and lingering metallic odor. It's a little alarming and I'm always eager to wash my hands afterward. Is this dangerous?

— Megan G., Ashland

Washing hands dangerous? Depends on what you wash them with, Megan. Sorry, we couldn't resist being snarky on your syntax. It's OK ... we catch ourselves in weird syntax, too, and it makes for a good laugh and keeps our more astute grammarians busy. For instance, a restaurant reviewer recently found herself, instead of her halibut, "bathed in a delicate sauce."

Back to your question ... that is one of the stranger phenomena we've heard of because, even though it smells like metal on your hands, it's not the coin that stinks, it's you. Our research turned up a study conducted by a team at the University of Leipzig in Germany, cited in brief at LiveScience.com (free) and in more detail, albeit for a premium subscription fee, at Nature.com online.

Essentially some metals, iron and copper, react with the oil and perspiration on your skin, and when those oils break down they emit a strangely metallic odor.

So it's not metal on your hands after you handle those coins, it's decomposed body secretions. May sound creepy but it's true.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to youasked@mailtribune.com.