A Gauteng-based radio station has enlisted a university lecturer and debunked rumours circulating in recent months that a gang is stealing plasma displays because of a white powder behind the screen that could be used to make drugs.
In fact, the powder is no more dangerous than over-the-counter antacids.
On Wednesday, Talk Radio 702’s Eyewitness News team published a video on YouTube demonstrating that the white powder in question is magnesium oxide, a harmless compound closely related to the key ingredient in antacids, magnesium hydroxide.
News reports have suggested that a gang in Alexandra, near Johannesburg, was targeting plasma screens because the powder in them could be used to make nyaope, a combination of marijuana, low-grade heroin and rat poison that has become a major problem in South Africa’s townships.
The radio station’s Aki Anastasiou conducted an experiment with the University of Johannesburg’s Edwin Mmutlane, a senior lecturer in the chemistry department. The pair dismantled a plasma display in one of the university’s laboratories.
“Behind the screen, you will find a layer of what is called a dielectric material that contains electrodes … behind the electrodes you find a layer of magnesium oxide,” Mmutlane explains. He says magnesium oxide is used as a “refracting material” and is popular with plasma manufacturers because its high melting and boiling points make it ideal for withstanding the heat plasma displays emit.
View the video (via YouTube):
The pair scraped a sample of white powder from the screen and tested its acidity only to find, according to Mmutlane, that it is “completely alkaline and harmless”. Testing milk of magnesia using the same technique revealed it to be equally alkaline.
“The white powder in plasma screens has no reaction to you chemically. It’s not a drug. It’s a rubbish story, it’s a myth,” says Anastasiou. — (c) 2013 NewsCentral Media