Man Charged with Static Walking

Shockingly weird.

Victorian authorities believe a man built up at least 30,000 volts of static electricity in his jacket simply by walking around the western Victorian city of Warrnambool yesterday.

The man left a trail of scorch marks and molten plastic behind him.

It was yesterday afternoon when Frank Clewer walked into a Warrnambool business and got his first shock.

“It sounded almost like a firecracker or something like that,” he said.

“It was at the reception area. Within say, around five minutes, the carpet started to erupt,” he said.

Burns the size of 10-cent pieces were left on the carpet where Mr Clewer had been standing.

The Country Fire Authority evacuated the building and those around it, fearing the power could cause larger electrical problems.

But Mr Clewer’s worries continued when he got back in his car.

“I actually scorched a piece of plastic I had on the floor of the car,” he said.

Scientist Karl Kruszelnicki says it is likely the electrical build-up was caused by a number of factors, such as the synthetic clothes the man was wearing.

“This poor guy has built up static electricity thanks to an unfortunate combination of insulating clothes that he’s wearing, static, synthetic clothes, just walking along and he’s just building up this static charge everywhere,” Dr Kruszelnicki said.

“I’ve read of it but I’ve never heard of it here in Australia.”

The CFA has Mr Clewer’s jacket and says it is continuing to give off voltage.

2 Comments

  1. The Reuters story I saw about this had a quotation from a “fire official” that I found suspect, especially since I’m not a physicist.

    “We tested his clothes with a static electricity field meter and measured a current of 40,000 volts, which is one step shy of spontaneous combustion, where his clothes would have self-ignited,” Barton said.

    Could that be?

  2. I emailed my chemist uncle, and here’s what he had to say:

    They probably mean an electrostatic voltmeter, see http://www.trekinc.com/products/esvm.asp

    Anyway, the story is obviously someone pulling someones leg. Even though 40,000 volts is possible, the other stuff about “leaving a trail of
    scorched carpet and molten plastic” is not. The voltage is high but the current is low. That’s why I haven’t killed anyone with my van de Graff generator yet.

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