There were reports in the trade journals that fine dust caused or at least increased the chances of people having lung cancer or emphysema. This was back when doctors regularly recommended smoking as a way to relax, avoid stress, and live longer.
Over coffee one day the major stockholder, the plant manager, and the head of research & development for Pozzolana, Inc. and Rio Clay Products were discussing this issue, and they decided that Herb, who was assistant to research and development, should determine whether there was a problem. They asked him to join them. After much discussion over several days, it was decided that Herb would harvest the pigeons which roosted in the brick manufacturing building. They were exposed to as much fine dust as any bird or animal in the area. Additionally, the fine dust rose during the day and collected in the upper reaches of the building. This is where the pigeons roosted, about forty feet above the plant floor.
Herb drew up a test protocol which included catching the pigeons, weighing them, killing them, removing the lungs, and preserving the lungs in alcohol. Herb would then section the lungs and mount the sections on microscope slides. By using polarized light, he could determine if there were any mineral particles in the lungs. If there were, he would look for abnormalities in the lungs.
As a dry run, he collected a dove in a maize field and went through the protocol.
He arranged with Carl to help him with the collection. Since the pigeons were up in the rafters, someone needed to crawl up there and catch the pigeons. Herb decided to do that. Carl assured him he knew how to weigh the pigeons, collect the lungs, and place the lungs in alcohol.
With 40 glass jars containing alcohol, several pens (in case one or more were lost), a scale, and a notebook for recording the results, Herb started climbing up into the rafters.
He would work his way along a rafter, and Carl would periodically shine a flashlight up so Herb could spot the pigeons. Herb would grab a pigeon, lock the wings, and drop it to Carl, and then he would start stalking the next pigeon. After about 2 hours, Herb had caught most of the pigeons. There were a few which flew off when Herb came close to them.
Herb carefully crawled down. By the time he got down, Carl had everything packed and loaded in the car.
Three days later in the lab, he opened the box and found that the first bottle contained a pigeon gizzard and not the lungs of a pigeon. The second bottle was like the first. Apparently Carl did not know the difference between a pigeon gizzard and a pigeon lung. An examination of all of the samples collected revealed that there were no lungs.
Herb had failed. He had not checked to ensure that Carl knew the difference between a lung and a gizzard. He went back to the plant and discovered that the pigeons which escaped had moved somewhere else. There was no way to determine whether the pigeons were being damaged by the fine clay in their environment.
Herb learned that no matter how much a person stated that he knew what to do, on all research projects Herb insisted that they demonstrate the procedure.
For several years there were no pigeons roosting in the brick manufacturing building, so the crew did not have to clean off pigeon droppings before going to work.
Looking at a photograph of the plant a number of years later, Herb determined that the pigeons roosted only thirty feet above the plant floor, not forty feet.