Thursday, April 30, 2015

Letter Z, The Choose Your Poison List and Wrap-Up #AtoZChallenge

Z is for Zyklon B, originally developed as a fumigant and pesticide but used in the gas chambers at Auschwitz. You can read more here and here.  
I'll be honest. There's too much information on Zyklon B for it to be easily condensed, and I hadn't the stomach to try and create a fiction piece. I wasn't there, and I've never really been able to wrap my mind around what it must have been like in the death chambers at Auschwitz.

Poisons A to Z: the Wrap-Up

Through time, many plants and animals evolved toxins - and methods of administration - either to protect themselves or to actively prey on others. At some point humans learned to use these poisons themselves, at first probably for hunting but as time went on, also to treat disease, kill unwanted vegetation and vermin, and...unwanted humans as well.

Oldest traces of poison - Stone Age Tool With Ricinoleic Acid

Mentions of deliberate poisonings date back to ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. Poison was a very popular method of assassination.  Mithridates VI was so afraid of being poisoned that he began to test substances on criminals, experimenting with various strengths and combinations as well as antidotes. He even administered small amounts of poison to himself in an attempt to gain immunity.

Agathodaimon, an ancient alchemist, makes mention of a“fiery poison”; when mixed with natron and dissolved into water, the water stayed clear, but when copper was dunked into it that water, it turned a deep green (which leads experts to believe that he was describing arsenic trioxide). Only fragments of his texts remain.

Persian physician and scholar Rhazes wrote Secret of Secrets, a book of chemical compounds, minerals and apparatus. His was the first mention of mercury compounds (such as mercury chloride) as medicine, particularly as a laxative and an ingredient in ointments for skin diseases like scabies (caused by mites, which the mercury killed) and weeping sores (such as those caused by syphilis).

medieval poison ring was unearthed in Bulgaria in 2013. Murderous jewelry was thought of long before modern mystery writers came on the scene.

Poisons are still used today, both for good and for evil. People die daily, from accidental ingestion, environmental exposure, and by deliberate administration for purposes of murder (or 'sanctioned' execution).

The history of poison is intertwined with the history of mankind. I couldn't possibly cover all of them in the challenge. I've tried to use each post to highlight something unusual: a poison you might not have heard of, a more imaginative way to use it, a historical case which might be unfamiliar to you.

Other poisons/toxins/heavy metals which you may wish to research and include in your stories are listed below. (LInks are to my A to Z posts.) I have attempted to give each one a date or time frame, in case you are looking for a poison specific to a time period. The time is just a reference point; it doesn't mean that the poison was recognized as such. Many were first used as pigments, folk remedies, even hallucinogens. Some are also naturally occuring and have always been around, like mushrooms and castor beans. (I did not include all of the poisonous plants and venoms found in nature, as that would make the list far too long and unwieldy.)

Abrin                            (No dates found. Naturally occuring toxin.)
Aconite                         (Ancient)
Antimony                      (1540)
Arsenic                          (Ancient)
Aristolochia clematitis (Ancient)
Atropine                       (Ancient)
Belladonna                   (Ancient)
Brodifacoum                (1975)
Bromine/bromides (xylyl bromide) (1825)
Botulin                      (first medically described 1817)
Cadmium                     (1817)
Chlorine                       (1774)
Chloroform                  (1831)
Chromium                   (used by Q'in dynasty; named as element in 1761)
Cobalt                          (Ancient, used in pigment)
Colchicine                   (Ancient)
Cyanide                       (1700s)
Dioxin                         (1960s)
Ethylene glycol           (1859)
Ergot                             (Ancient)
Fluorine                        (1886) 
Formaldehyde              (1859)
Fugu (pufferfish)          (Ancient)
Furan                            (1780)
Gelsemium            rare, poisonous plant grown in the Himalayas ,known to have been used in                          Chinese assassinations
Green potatoes (solanine) (Ancient)
Hellebore                      (Medieval)
Hemlock                       (Ancient)
Henbane                        (Ancient)
Hydrogen cyanide         (1704) isolated from "Prussian Blue"
Inhalants                        varies according to substance inhaled
Lead                              (Ancient)
Mandrake                      (Ancient)
Mercury                        (Ancient)
Methyl bromide            (1932)      (Recent case: US Virgin Islands)
Mustard gas                   (1916)
Mycotoxins (fungi/mold) (Ancient)
Novichok                       (1970s-1990s?)  Recent case: England 2018
Nicotine                          (Ancient, isolated 1828)
Nux vomica                   (Medieval)
Oleander                        (Ancient)
Palytoxin                       (Ancient, coral, isolated 1971) Recent case: USA 2018
Paraquat                         (1882; first used as herbicide 1955)
Paris Green                    (1800s)
Phosgene                       (1812)
Phosphorus                    (1669)
Plutonium                      (1940)
Polonium                       (1898)
Potassium cyanide        Possibly 1807
Quinine                         Ancient
Ricin                              (Ancient. Identified 1889)
Sarin                              (1938)
Saxitoxin                       (Ancient. Shellfish. Isolated 1927)
Strychnine                     (Ancient)
Thallium                        (1861)
Tutin                              (1909)
VX (nerve gas)              (1954)
Warfarin                         (1948)              

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Letter Y: The Choose Your Poison #AtoZChallenge

Today's letter, Y, is represented by Mr. Yuk.

The idea for Mr.Yuk was conceived by Dr. Richard Moriarty of University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in 1971. The design for Mr. Yuk was created by Wendy Courtney Brown, a 4th grader student at Liberty Elementary in West Virginia, USA as part of a contest.
     Mr. Yuk is used to educate children and adults about the dangers of poisonous substances.  Free sheets of stickers are available by sending a stamped, self-addressed envelope to:
Mr. Yuk
Pittsburgh Poison Center
200 Lothrop Street
PFG 01-01-01
Pittsburgh, PA 15213

Each sticker contains the national toll-free number to the Poison Control Center. Calling this number from anywhere in the US or its territories will connect you to the nearest regional poison center. Help is available 24/7.

For your viewing pleasure: a Mr. Yuk commercial from 1971. Very trippy.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Letter X: The Choose Your Poison #AtoZChallenge

Olive Trees With Yellow Sky and Sun

     "Art and sight are closely intertwined. Painting is a visual medium that requires both the artist and the observer to use their visual sense to fully appreciate the execution and development of a composition....
     .....In this first instalment of a mini-series looking into the subject of ‘Vision and Art’ I would like to talk about the ‘yellow vision’ of Vincent van Gogh.
     ‘Xanthopsia’, that is, an overriding yellow bias in vision, can be provoked by many disorders other than the reddish-brown filter of nuclear sclerosis, which most famously affected Monet.
Poisoning by a large number of drugs, including santonin, digitalis, phenacetin, ether, chromic and picric acids, and even snake venom have been associated with xanthopsia....
     ...Whatever van Gogh’s exact diagnosis may have been, it is highly likely that after admission to the asylum at Saint-Rémy in 1889, his physician, Dr Paul-Ferdinand Gachet, prescribed digitalis, which is why medical historiography strongly supports the hypothesis of van Gogh having suffered from digitalis-induced xanthopsia. In Portrait of Dr Gachet, 1890, the foxglove plant is presented in front of Dr Gachet; digitalis is extracted from foxglove plants."  -from Vincent van Gogh’s Yellow Vision, Anna Gruene,

Monday, April 27, 2015

Letter W: The Choose Your Poison #AtoZChallenge
It would be most disconcerting if your doctor wrote you a prescription for rat poison. Yet that is exactly what has happened if you or a family member has taken Warfarin (brand name Coumadin) for preventing thrombosis or thromboembolism (blood clot).

Warfarin was initially introduced in 1948 as a pesticide against rats and mice, and is still used for this purpose today although better controls are available. The name Warfarin is derived from Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation which funded studies, and coumarin. It is a synthetic form of an anti-coagulant originally discovered in spoiled sweet clover animal feed.

Patients being treated with Warfarin need to have their blood monitored on a regular basis, and since levels of vitamin K can affect the blood clotting ability, dietary intake of foods high in that vitamin (like leafy green vegetables) must be regulated as well.

This is yet another example of a "poison" being put to use in a therapeutic manner under tightly controlled circumstances.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Letter V : The Choose Your Poison #AtoZChallenge

Blue ringed octopus. Photograph by Roy Caldwell via Wikimedia Commons

     The terms poisonous and venomous are not interchangeable.  Venomous creatures produce a biotoxin and inject it by means of bite, sting, or other sharp protruding body part (such as spines or spurs).  Utilization of venom occurs across a broad spectrum of classifications, from invertebrates (spiders) to fish (stonefish) to mammals (male platypus).  Venom can be used as both an offensive and defensive weapon.

    Lists of "most venomous" animals vary, due to differences in criteria.  Are they rating absolute toxicity? Most commonly encountered?  Highest death toll among humans? I thought I'd list a few with no known antidote; you get envenomated, you probably die in a painful and horrible manner.

    1. The Blue-Ringed Octopus is strikingly beautiful and small, but its venom is powerful. It carries enough poison to kill 26 adult humans within minutes, and there is no antidote.

    2. The Pufferfish's poison produces a quick and violent death. Puffer poisoning causes dizziness, vomiting, rapid heart rate, difficulty breathing, and muscle paralysis. Victims die from suffocation when diaphragm muscles are paralyzed. There is no known antidote.

    3. Coral cobra. These snakes are not true cobras but get their name from both their color and habit of flattening their necks into a hood. They are native to Africa and are highly venomous. However, since they have short fangs and live a burrowing lifestyle, the chances of a deadly encounter are fairly slim. There is no known antidote for their bite.

    4. Cone snails typically live in warm and tropical oceans worldwide, with the highest density in the western Pacific region.  They have beautifully patterned shells, but carry a deadly neurotoxin with which they poison their prey.  Symptoms after being stung include typical neurological impairment such as weakness, lack of coordination, vision problems, and difficulty with speech and hearing. A heavy dose of venom from one of the larger snails may result in death, due to respiratory paralysis, within hours.  There is no antidote.

      5. Box jellyfish show up on nearly every list. Most entries I've read state that there is no antidote to the poison. However, it's my understanding that an antidote does now exist. Unfortunately, many victims probably wouldn't live long enough to take advantage of it anyway.
     Box jellies include about 50 described species; there are probably more yet to be discovered. They have tentacles covered in tiny cnidocysts; each one is like a poison dart that causes an immediate and explosive release of poison. The toxin enters the blood, spiking blood pressure to dangerously high levels and often causing cardiac arrest.

     That's a short list, due to the nature of the A to Z Challenge. (I've tried to keep my posts short and sweet.)  There are plenty more venomous - and deadly - creatures out there. But let's not forget that in studying these toxins and attempting to find antidotes, scientists have learned a great deal about how toxins work, and they have also put these toxins and/or their components to work saving lives.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Unhealthy Foods and Orthorexia : The Choose Your Poison #AtoZChallenge

     Most of us strive to eat a healthy diet. So it seems counterintuitive to consider that behavior as problematic. But there are those who cross the line and become obsessive.
     When unhealthy foods are viewed as poison, when one's life is consumed with draconian food restrictions, when social life is narrowed or disappears altogether, then orthorexia nervosa may have come into play.
     Orthorexia nervosa is not a recognized disorder in the DSM-V, but falls into the same category as anorexia nervosa and bulemia. One of the differences, however, is that orthorexics aren't generally attempting to lose or control weight; they are simply consumed with eating only what they consider to be "pure" or healthy foods. This type of eating behavior becomes a disorder when it interferes with a person's ability to function on a daily basis. For example, an orthorexic may decline to eat anywhere outside the home and only what they themselves have chosen and prepared. They may agonize over every single food item; where it came from, whether or not it is currently considered a "superfood", whether or not it should be cooked and by what method. They may spend hours poring over books and internet sites, searching for information on what they should be eating, and when. "Slipping up" and eating something unhealthy may send them into a spiral of depression and self-loathing, with the added consequence of making them even more rigid about their diet.
     And while eating pure and healthy foods may sound like it's good for you, unless it is carefully done you can still end up with unmet nutritional needs and deficiencies. That can result in osteoporosis, hormone problems, gastrointestinal problems, even cardiac issues.
     Like just about everything in life, it all comes down to balance. If you have food allergies or diseases such as celiac, diabetes or IBS, then of course diet is more critical to you then most. But for the average person with no known food issues, eating should be just a part of life - and a pleasurable part. Be smart about it. Portion control, a wide variety of fruits and veggies, lots of whole grains - these will help you stay on track to meet your nutritional needs. Don't forget, your body also needs a small amount of fat in the diet to function properly. Fat is a component of myelin, the protective sheath around nerve cells; it's also necessary to absorb fat-soluble vitamins like A, E, and K.

     Couldn't come up with a poison for letter U (other than uranium).
    I was going to do "unhealthy foods are like poison to your system" but there's so much information on foods that are bad for you. (And it keeps changing.) So I chose to highlight orthorexia, which I think is a lesser known (but increasingly common) disorder. A bit of a stretch for letter U's my blog and I'll fudge if I want to.

Letter T : The Choose Your Poison #AtoZChallenge

It was discovered in 1862, and like so many other poisons was first used to kill rodents. After several accidents the use as poison was banned in the United States in 1972. It is, however, still used in the electronics industry, as well as for certain medical scans.

A spate of murders gained this element the moniker of "poisoner's poison", as it is colorless, tasteless and odorless, and causes symptoms in the victims which can easily be attributed to other causes.  It featured in an Agatha Christie novel, The Pale Horse;  a major clue was hair loss, a distinctive side effect.

Have you guessed today's poison?  It's Thallium.

During 1952-1953 several successive murder trials featured thallium poisoning in Australia; chronic vermin infestations, the easy availability of thallium rat poison and the human propensity to "copy-cat" probably led to the cluster of killings.  There were 5 different murder cases during that time period.  The most sensational was probably that of Veronica Monty in 1952; she was tried for the attempted murder of her son-in-law and rugby player Bob Lulham, and the trial revealed that she had been involved in an intimate relationship with him. Veronica was found not guilty, but committed suicide - using thallium - in 1955.

Other noted cases include:

  • 1957  Nikolai Khokhlov, a former KGB assassin, was poisoned with thallium. (Oh, the irony.) He was eventually flown to the US and recovered.
  • 1971   Graham Frederick Young used thallium to poison around 70 people in the English village of Bovingdon. Three died.
  • 1988   George J. Trepal, later known as "The Mensa Murderer", was convicted of poisoning his neighbors the Carrs by placing Coke bottles laced with thallium nitrate in the residence. The mother, Peggy Carr, died; the rest of the family was sickened but survived. It seems that George was annoyed with his neighbors, especially because they were too loud.  He may have been brilliant and a member of Mensa, but he made two very stupid mistakes.  He couldn't keep his mouth shut;  he drew suspicion when he attended a Mensa group murder weekend and said something about "neighbors needing to watch what they eat/drink around the house". And, he didn't get rid of the evidence; a vial containing traces of thallium was found in his garbage.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Letter S: The Choose Your Poison #AtoZChallenge

Sarin is a man-made chemical classified as a nerve agent. (Nerve agents are the most toxic and fast acting of chemical warfare agents.)  It was originally developed in Germany in 1938 as a pesticide (along with several other deadly poisons). It was added to the German arsenal but never used during the war.

Sarin is a clear, colorless, odorless and tasteless liquid that can also evaporate into a deadly gas. The gas is heavier than air and will collect in low lying places, but on the plus side it evaporates so quickly that it poses a short-term risk unless it is released in a confined area.

Sarin is extremely toxic; a fraction of an ounce (1 to 10 mL) on the skin can be fatal, and death can occur within minutes.  Exposure can be via direct contact, inhalation, contaminated water, or clothing worn by someone else.  Antidotes (which must be administered ASAP) are Atropine and pralidoxime chloride (2-PAM Cl) along with Diazepam if seizure activity is present.

Emergency response instructions also include the following information:
  • Under acid conditions, sarin hydrolyzes to form hydrofluoric acid (HF). See the emergency response card for hydrofluoric acid.
  • Sarin decomposes tin, magnesium, cadmium-plated steel, and aluminum.
  • Contact with metals may evolve flammable hydrogen gas.                -  (CDC)
Sarin may have been used twice in 1988 during the Iran-Iraq war: in the Kurd city of Halabja (approximately 5,000 people may have died), and during the second battle for al-Faw.

In 1994 it was used in the Matsumoto incident when the Japanese religious sect Aum Shinrikyo released an impure form of sarin in several open spaces. Eight people died. 

On March 20, 1995, Sarin grabbed headlines again due to the Tokyo subway sarin attack by the religious group  Aum Shinrikyo. Thirteen people died and thousands were transported to hospitals for breathing and vision problems.

In 2013 Sarin was used in Ghouta during the civil war in Syria; estimates of deaths range from 300 to over 1000.

Letter R: The Choose Your Poison #AtoZChallenge

     I snapped on the light.  A hulking white figure to my left resolved itself into the artificial Christmas tree, bagged and unused for years.  Cobwebs slowly drifted by my face, briefly stirred by the influx of fresh air.  The detritis of 20 years lay strewn about the basement, silently waiting for some final disposition.  Nothing unusual; I mentally shrugged, flipped off the light and went back upstairs.  No monsters in my basement after all.
     Except the same silent killer which lurks in households all across America.  It is colorless, odorless, and undetectable without specific tests.  It's one of the leading environmental causes of cancer overall.
     It is a radioactive gas called radon.
     Radon is the primary cause of lung cancer in people who have never smoked. It is also responsible for the bulk of most people's total exposure to radiation Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas which seeps through cracks and holes in building foundations, concentrating in basements and below-ground building levels. An estimated 1 in 15 homes in the US has a significant level of radon;  and certain areas of the country are more prone to high levels of the gas.
     The effects of radon appeared as long ago as the 1600s  (miners may also be exposed to large quantities of the gas) and was described as mala metallorum or miner's wasting disesase.  In the 1970s, research began on the problem of radon in American homes, its effects, and ways to mitigate it.  In the mid 1980s, radon featured prominently in my local newspaper;  a worker at the nearby Three Mile Island nuclear plant was found to be contaminated with radiation, but the source was not the nuclear plant but his home, which had extremely high levels of radon.
     After we built our home in 1994, it was recommended that we wait 6 months for the house to settle and then test for radon.  We did so, and the testing showed high levels. So we had to hire a radon mitigation company to come in and run specific tests, do some heavy-duty sealing of certain areas, and install a special fan which runs 24 hours day to constantly refresh the basement air. Many of the homes in my county have the same type of system installed; other homeowners who cannot afford, or don't want to bother with testing and mitigation have to take their chances with this potentially deadly monster in the basement.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Letter Q: The Choose Your Poison #AtoZChallenge

Quinine, a bitter extract of cinchona trees from Peru, was used by natives of that country as a muscle relaxant and to reduce shivering from both cold and fever. A Jesuit by the name of Agostino Salumbrino (d1642) who was serving in Peru sent quinine home to Rome to be tested as a treatment for various fevers, particularly malaria. Quinine proved effective and became the first-choice treatment for malaria all over the world until the 1950s, when other drugs became available. Quinine (in miniscule amounts) is found in tonic water, bitter lemon and other cocktail mixers; and although it's no longer recommended, when I was in college during the 1980s I was prescribed low doses of quinine for leg cramps.

Side effects of quinine may include tinnitus (ringing of the ears), headache, vision problems and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes).  An overdose can cause any of the following:  rapid/irregular heartbeat, confusion, hearing impairment, seizures, loss of peripheral vision, blindness, coma, or death.

WikiTox: Quinine

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Letter P: The Choose Your Poison #AtoZChallenge

    As we find prosperity displayed in the most beauteous and pleasing manner, so do we often find the engines of that affluence grinding away savagely in parts of the city now relegated to the masses required to operate those engines. Among those belching factories, within the human warrens of dank alleys and reeking cobblestones, one finds a brew of every human element, from the destitute and despairing to the drunkenly ebullient, from the optimistic family man to the insouciant youth.
    On the evening in question, two gentlemen dipped their elegant, yet obviously sporting toes, into the quagmire of one of these industrial sinks. Having imbibed a quantity of spirits, they had set out on their journey not unlike their fathers pursuing strange game in the heart of the Dark Continent.
     Burgess, the elder of the two, was having some difficulty walking; not because of the detritis underfoot, as one might surmise, but rather in an effort to avoid contact with the hordes of begrimed and odoriferous workers now streaming from the factories as their 14 hour day came to an end. Harold, the younger, was also exhibiting a handicap; as a budding artist, he wished to stop, examine and eventually paint the faces of the working class. Yet it was proving difficult, as most of the passersby moved at a rapid pace and had their faces shielded by caps, or wrapped in collars and mufflers to keep out the chilly, dank breeze which swept down the blackened brick canyons.
     "I shan't be able to get any sketches done at this rate," Harold grumbled to his brother.
     Burgess had already regretted yielding to Harold's absurd request, and was about to suggest curtailing the evening's enterprise when he spotted a slim figure, one loose copper curl bouncing invitingly, as she darted into an alley.
     "Quick. A neat little thing just turned the corner. A shilling ought to buy you a pose."
     The two young men forged ahead and ducked down the aforementioned passage, then nearly fell over the object of their pursuit. She was bending down to examine a long tear in the hem of her dress. Equally startled, she backed away, pulling a woolen scarf tighter about her face.  Large hazel eyes framed by thick lashes reminded Harold of a young doe he'd shot just last week. He was instantly smitten.
     "Oh, that I could capture your look just now! I wish to draw you, if you will only stand just so a minute!"
     Harold was already fumbling in his pocket but the woman - not much more than a child, really - was shaking her head furiously.
     "Come now. Here's something for you." Burgess fished out a coin and held it out upon his pale, fleshy palm.  The toe of his boot tap-tap-tapped on the cobblestone. "He only wants to draw you, goose. Surely you don't think we'd want anything else from the likes of you."
     Still she cowered, back to the sooty wall, barely visible in the dying evening's light.
     "Never mind. I won't be able to see properly to draw in a few minutes. We'll hail a cab and I'll stand you to a pint at the Ten Bells. Likely there will be a visage or two in there worth depicting."
     But Burgess, maddened by the girl's seeming contrariety and lack of approbation, reached out and wrenched away the cloth which stood between her countenance and his brother's gaze.
     "Heh  da eh," she said defiantly. Her answer "then draw me", however perfectly framed in her mind, ceased to be recognizable upon reaching her mouth; for that particular part of her had not existed in its original state for quite some time. Half of her lower jaw, in fact, was either seething with pus from abscesses or had been eaten away entirely. The mishapen remains glowed greenish-white in the calignosity of the city's dusk.
     Harold fainted.
     Burgess, for the first time in his life, was quite unsure what to do.
     The match girl took her time adjusting the cloth which hid her wreckage, held her hand out for the promised payment, then delicately stepped over the dandy splayed upon the ground and joined the tide of humanity flowing through the streets toward their individual refuges for the night.

Photo source here
Today's poison is white/yellow phosphorus, used by the match industry during the 19th century. Exposure to white (seems to be used interchangeably with yellow) phosphorus caused a condition which came to be known as "phossy (fossy) jaw". It began with toothaches, swelling/bleeding of the gums, and jaw pain; then progressed to abscesses, necrosis, brain damage and death. The only treatment was surgical removal of the affected tissue and bone. "Phossy jaw" among workers contributed to the London Match Girl Strike of 1888, along with long hours and terrible working conditions, but because using a safer alternate to white phosphorus was more expensive, manufacturers continued to use it until it was prohibited in 1906.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Letter O: The Choose Your Poison #AtoZChallenge

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

          He had thought that money would smooth everything over. That marriage was essentially a business contract between a man and a woman, each bound to provide certain things and accept certain things.
          But even the most lucrative, the most exciting businesses tended to turn stale after several decades. An infusion of fresh ideas, new blood was called for. People were let go. Sacrifices were made. And one had to be discrete lest the public image suffer.
          Richard hummed under his breath as he drew his knife. Uncapping the honeycombs, he dumped them into the hand cranked honey extractor. Soon the glistening contents would ooze out;  he would filter it, pour it into the glass jars, and present them to his bedridden wife. She would slather it on her morning toast, stir it into her tea, and smile at him through her confusion. Then the pain would begin again. And one day, her heart would stop.
          Hundreds of bees hummed busily on their trips to and fro, between the oleander flowers and the hives that he'd built and placed below them. 

"Oleander poisoning occurs when someone sucks nectar from the flowers or chews leaves from the oleander or yellow oleander plant. Poisoning can also happen if you eat honey made by bees that used the oleander plant for nectar." NY health guides

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Letter N: The Choose Your Poison #AtoZChallenge

     "Here, chew some gum." She rummaged around her in purse and handed him a piece.
     Martin made a face.
     "It'll settle your stomach. Remember how I used to give the kids gum when their tummies were upset?"
     He took it and began to chew, making a wet smacking sound. The nails of her right hand dug into her palm. She'd grown to hate everything about him these days. Once he'd been a fairly well-dressed, neatly groomed man. But now that he'd quit working his belly had bulged, his teeth had grown downright mossy, and he showered every third day - if she was lucky.
     "Hey, this ain't bad." He belched loudly, a noxious cloud of sour Chinese food wafting over her.
     "Here, spit that out and have a fresh piece. Your lunch doesn't seem to agree with you."
     He rolled down the window and spat. "Hope that ain't hangin' on the side of the car," he grunted, taking another piece of gum.

     His nausea grew worse that evening; she continued to ply him with gum, insisting that it would help, even as he progressed to intermittent vomiting. By midnight he was "sweating like a racehorse", by morning he was convulsing, and by lunch he was gone.
     "That dang Chinese food," she replied, when their son tearfully asked what had happened. But she couldn't remember what town they'd stopped in to have that fateful meal.
     She lit a cigarette.
     "Ma, I thought you stopped smoking."
     "Surely you can understand how rotten this is for me. Making the arrangements, and all." Even dead, he was a pain in her ass. 
     She got up and dumped the overflowing ashtray into the garbage, covering the empty cartons of nicotine gum.

*Children and pets are most at risk for nicotine poisoning. A full pack of cigarettes contains enough nicotine to kill an adult if the cigarettes were eaten rather than smoked. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Letter M: The Choose Your Poison #AtoZChallenge

    Vivien Honeybone bites her thumb at the clodpoles and shrews sauntering through the Faire. Her discerning eye can distinguish between the true and the false. That wanton's corset is poorly constructed; her own is of silk, with boning from Greenberg & Hammer, N.Y.  That strutting cock carries a harquebus but his footgear is of some unknown material from the future. The Time Travelers are here, and Vivien sips her posset in anticipation.
     "Good day, mistress. Might I ask from whence you hail?"
     "Scranton. What's that face stuff you have for sale?"
     Vivien sighs. The Travelers speak with such harsh intonations, nevermind the abominable language.
     "Come here! Let me bewray thou." Choosing a delicate jar which she has painted herself, she carefully lifts the lid to show the contents.
     "Tis a very dear unguent. T'will make a maiden's skin as fine as porcelain."
     "My daughter is into this re-enactment thing. I thought maybe I'd get her some makeup.  Is this the white crap the women have smeared all over their faces in the movies? Like the queen with the big collar?"
     Torn between slapping the lumpish, idle-headed maggot-pie and completing the sale, the paragon of Elizabethan virtue smiles and extolls once again the wondrous effects of her homemade cosmetic.
     "Thy daughter will be enchanted. Red cheeks without blush, smooth skin beyond compare, why..."
     Suddenly overcome, Vivien gropes her way to a stool and sits down. Perhaps her corset stays could stand a loosening. Fainting fits among the women are, of course, a hallmark of the age; the tingling in her hands and feet, however, are a new phenomenon. Perhaps it is related to her advanced age of thirty.
     The Traveler squints at her. "Reckon it's the heat that's gotcha. Wearin' all that stuff." He looks down at his exposed (and very hairy) legs and feet. "Thank God we don't wear that stuff anymore."
     Vivien believes that if the goatish customer bleats "stuff" one more time that she will vomit.
     "Begone, fool." She attempts to wave him away, but her arm flaps wildly and she must capture it with the other.
     "I'll take two. Gotta say, you're really into this whole thing. I hope my Kaitlin does half as good as you do. I know she'll love this cream. Maybe it'll do something for her pimples." He withdraws two bills and lays them on the table. "Dost thou...ummmm... need a visit to the medical tent? My wife could come over here and watch your stuff. We're honest folk."
     There it is. "Stuff!" she shrieks. "Stuff! Thou shouldst be stuffed and mounted and placed by the great hearth for all to gaze upon! Or yet thy hideous head placed upon a wall! Stuff!"
     The Traveler peers at her with a flicker of uncertainty; then, taking his jars, backs away into the crowd, muttering all the while. "Mad as a hatter. Some of these people go a little too far."
     Vivien is horrified at her own loss of control.  She sips a little more of her posset, then begins to pack up her things and load them onto her pony, George. It's a two hour ride back to her stone cottage, the one that she and John had built together so long ago. As teenagers. As inhabitants of the Future themselves.
     She arrives home feeling somewhat better for the fresh air, although traversing the hard-packed dirt filled with shimmering metallic horseless carriages has been a trial. Closeted in her beloved sanctuary, surrounded by the sconces, tapestries and furnishings which had been carefully collected - or handmade - over the years, she smooths out a piece of parchment and begins to collect the ingredients for her Medieval Magic skin cream. Quicksilver, alum, lye...

1. Quicksilver is mercury, today's featured poison. It was used in both medicinal preparations and cosmetics through the centuries. One of the symptoms of mercury poisoning is desquamation or peeling of the skin, hence it's use as a sort of 'chemical face peel'. Another is reddening of the cheeks. It also causes neurological damage.
2. A recipe for a face preparation from the time period. 
  "take pure silver and quicksilver and, when they are ground in the mortar, one adds ceruse and burnt rock alum, and then for a day they are ground together again and afterwards moistened with mastic until all is liquid; then all is boiled in rain water and, the boiling done, one casts some sublimate upon the mortar; this is done three times and the water cast on the fourth time is kept together with the body of the lye..."

-Raffaella of Master Alexander Piccolomini, or A Dialogue of the Faire Perfectioning of Ladies: A Work Very Necessarie and Profitable For All Gentlewomen or Other. 16th century manuscript, John Nevinson translation, Glasgow 1968.

3. The main risk from mercury poisoning today comes from eating fish and shellfish, as mercury (an industrial by-product) concentrates in sediments and is taken up by microorganisms and marine organisms, which are then consumed by larger species.

4. Drugs containing mercury such as Blue Mass  and Calomel were popular until the connection was finally made between mercury and diseases (actually toxin syndromes) such as "Pink Disease".

5. When I was growing up in the sixties, we still used fever thermometers of glass and mercury. I actually bit one; fortunately, I bit the glass part and the bulb containing the liquid mercury remained intact. I also had the sense to not swallow - I patiently waited for Mom to pluck out the thermometer, at which point she screamed and I spat the whole mess out in her hand.

6. You might remember skin antiseptics called merthiolate and mercurochrome, in use until at least the 1970s. They stung like hell, dyed the skin red for days and...contained mercury.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Letter L : The Choose Your Poison #AtoZChallenge

Relics found from the Franklin Expedition. Illustrated London News 1854
      In 1845 Captain John Franklin set out from England with two ships, the HMS Terror and the HMS Erebus, and 128 men in search of the last leg of the famed Northwest Passage.  The ships became icebound in Victoria Strait and the crew perished. Various search and rescue missions set out from England in search of the missing expedition. In 1850 several British and American ships converged off the east coast of Beechey Island, and the first relics from the lost expedition were recovered, as well as the graves of some crewmen.  Eight years later doctor and explorer John Rae, who was in the region on a different mission, spoke with Inuit who told stories about a group of shipwrecked white men who starved to death; there were also tales of cannibalism.
     Searches continued and over the decades various clues turned up including notes left in a cairn on 11 June 1847 saying that Erebus and Terror had been trapped in pack ice for over a year; the men finally abandoned the ships on 22 April 1847. Twenty-four officers and crew had died by this time, including Captain Franklin.
     In 1981 an examination of crew remains from Beechey Island revealed that they probably died of pneumonia and/or tuberculosis. Other bodies found on King William Island showed cut marks on bones consistent with cannibalism. The entire expedition probably perished as a combined result of exposure, starvation, and disease. But poisoning may have hastened their deaths.
     The poison?  Lead from the tins of food with which the ships had been provisioned. High levels of lead were also found when analyzing the bodies. This theory is bolstered by a recent analysis of a soup can left by a rescue crew in 1854. The lead levels in the can were "off the charts". (Discover Magazine quoting The Times Colonist).
     Lead poisoning can cause cramps, joint pain, severe anemia, mental confusion, memory loss, kidney dysfunction, and death. If the lost crew were subsisting primarily on their tinned provisions, and if most or all of the cans had the same extremely high levels of lead found in the analyzed can (which is highly likely), then it's entirely possible that lead poisoning alone may have doomed a portion of the crew.

*The well-preserved wreck of HMS Erebus was finally found in 2014, in about 40 feet of water near King William Island, about 1,200 miles  northwest of Toronto.

Letter K: The Choose Your Poison #AtoZChallenge

     A mysterious disease is ravaging areas of Sri Lanka.  It has doctors, researchers and even the World Health Organization stumped. The AP reports from Konketiyawa that in one village up to 10 people a month die from CKD-UE (chronic kidney disease, unknown etiology).
     Unlike kidney failure due to diabetes, hypertension or rampant drug abuse, this fairly recent condition has no known cause; and while those lucky enugh to live close to a dialysis center may hang on for a few years, many die within months.  While the outbreak in Sri Lanka was recently featured in several newspapers, the ailment has also struck farmers in Nicaragua and El Salvador, as well as in Egypt and India  The cause could be some new bacterial invader yet to be identified; some researchers postulate that it is an effect of multiple bouts of severe dehydration suffered by these denizens of arid regions.
     But this particular condition has appeared within the last 20-25 years, and is found predominantly in rural areas and among farming families. Therefore many believe that the causative agent, in all probability, is an environmental poison or toxin, especially since Sri Lanka is a heavy user of fertilizer and agrochemicals. I've come across two mentions of the weed killer glyphosate (brand name: Roundup), although no conclusions have been drawn and Monsanto, the manufacturer of Roundup, has been dismissive.
     We are surrounded by poisons every day.  Many are manmade, and serve a purpose which we believe to be beneficial; and yet, even if they are used to feed the starving or rid us of vermin, we can never lose sight of the fact that they are, and always will be, poison. We bathe the land and ourselves with them at our own peril.

*I couldn't find a specific poison beginning with k so I went with kidney disease possibly caused by poison.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Letter J: The Choose Your Poison #AtoZChallenge

Jake liquor, Jake liquor, what in the world you tryin' to
Everybody in the city messed up on account of drinkin'

I drank so much Jake, it settled all in my head
I've drank so much Jake, until it settled all in my head
I rushed for my lovin', my baby turned her back to me

That's the doggoned diseases, ever heard since I been
You have numbness in front of your body, you can't
carry any lovin' on

Aunt Jane she come a-runnin', tellin' everybody in the
Aunt Jane, she come runnin' and screamin', tellin'
everybody in the neighborhood
That man of mine got the limber trouble, and his lovin'
can't do me any good

The doctor told me to tell you somethin', for your own
cravin' on this Jake
If you don't quit drinkin' that poison Jake you're
drinkin', it's gon' leave you with the limber leg -ISHMON BRACEY - "Jake Liquor Blues"

     During Prohibition, alcoholic drinks of any sort were banned in the US. Ways people tried to get around the ban included marketing products as medicinal or "patent" medicines or adding adulterants to foil government testing of the product.
     One such medicine was Jamaica Ginger known by the slang name "Jake". Jamaica Ginger itself was not poisonous; however, it had an ethanol content of about 80%. The government mandated that more ginger be added, which made the drink extremely bitter and difficult to drink in any quantity. A pair of bootleggers, Harry Gross and Max Reisman, added a chemical plasticizer which allowed their "Jake" to both pass government tests and remain palatable.
     In March 1930, cases of a strange paralysis began to appear which stumped doctors. The most recognizable symptom was loss of muscle control in the legs and feet.  Many victims developed a distinctive gait, a sort of high-knee, heel-toe walk which became known as "Jake Leg" or the "Jake Walk". The numbers climbed rapidly: 600 men in Johnson City, TN, almost 700 in Topeka, Kansas.
     The medical community might have been puzzled, but the answer was there in the form of music. In March 1930 several blues musicians recorded songs featuring "Jake". Ishmon Bracey's "Jake Liquor Blues" demonstrates a clear knowledge that Jamaica Ginger was, in fact, responsible for the paralysis.
     Eventually the paralysis was traced to the adulterated batches of Jamaica Ginger, but by then an estimated 20,000 to 50,000 victims had been permanently affected.


Thursday, April 9, 2015

Letter I: The Choose Your Poison #AtoZChallenge #FridayFlash

   Breathe deep the gathering gloom...
  Jesse lay spread eagle, drifting on the warm seas, his raft velutinous and undulating.  Velutinous. Vellll...ooooo...tin...usss... the word was ECHOING echo echo the raft spun into a maelstrom, the sky above bellowing in time with his breathing. Warm, deliciously warm, somehow he had been transported from frigid Michigan to the balmy tropics of...where? He felt his own grin materialize, stretching wider, wider, until his entire face split and he felt his skin beginning to slip, oozing like snot around his ears and into his hair.
     The genial sun above exploded into a white-hot supernova and his body caught fire.  Rolling from the raft into the water, he instead found himself writhing on the newly installed beige Berber carpet. The fall had caused his stomach to contract violently in fear; he vomited, repeatedly, unable to lift his head to avoid the sour contents.
     His grandmother had last seen him a few hours ago on an auditorium stage, accepting his award for Honor Roll student. Now she was screaming into the phone while attempting to lift his head and wipe his face with her sweater. His nostrils filled with the lavender scent of her clothes and he helplessly spewed again.
     The police arrived first, one officer carrying an automated defibrillator. Standard practice these days, especially when a call comes in for an unconscious teenager. He touched Jesse's scorching forehead, then felt for a pulse. The second officer snapped on a glove and picked up the can lying next to the boy.
     "They're gonna have to build a new wing on the hospital if this keeps up. Third one in a week."

Intoxicative Inhalants have been used throughout history for both religious and recreational use. Both nitrous oxide and ether (primarily used as anesthetics) were used as recreational drugs during the 1800s. This story focuses on abuse of household and industrial chemicals, called sniffing, huffing or bagging. Popular inhalants include volatile chemicals used in paints and thinners, butane, glues and cements, and aerosol electronics cleaners ( "canned air" or "duster").  They produce effects ranging from a general "high" feeling similar to an alcohol buzz, to euphoria and hallucinations.

Dangerous and often lethal side effects include heart arrhythmia, spikes in body temperature to over 106F, aspiration/asphyxiation from inhaling vomit, and hypoxia (lack of oxygen). Sudden cardiac arrest can occur with the first "huff" or after years of use.

Thousands of people die each year by accidental poisoning. Sadly, thousands more poison themselves deliberately - in search of a high.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Letter H: The Choose Your Poison #AtoZChallenge

Punch cartoon
     In the 1850s, adulteration of foodstuffs was more common than not.  The term daft was used to describe cheap (and often dangerous) ingredients used to stretch or outright replace more costly items. Common examples included plaster of Paris, powdered lime, clay, chalk and sawdust.
     One of the most notorious incidents of poisoning by the use of daft was unknowingly perpetrated in 1858 by a sweetshop owner in Bradford, England by the name of William Hardaker, known as Humbug Billy.  Humbugs were peppermint lozenges made of peppermint oil, sugar, and gum.  Hardaker purchased his supply of them from Joseph Neal. Neal, in turn, purchased supplies of daft from a druggist named Hodgson. (Sugar was prohibitively expensive in those days, and often cut with white powders from various sources.)
     In October 1858 Neal sent someone to collect his supply of daft from the druggist. By mistake, the pharmacy sold the man 12 pounds of arsenic trioxide. Neal's sweetmaker concocted forty pounds of lozenges with the arsenic and sold them to Hardaker, who in turn began to sell the candy the same evening.
     The first two juvenile deaths were chalked up to cholera, also a common occurrence during that time period. But as deaths and illness began to pile up, the cause was eventually traced to the peppermints sold by Hardaker.  In all, approximately 20 people died and over 200 were sickened.
     Everyone involved were charged with manslaughter; the charges against Goddard the sweetmaker and Neal were withdrawn, and Hardaker was later acquitted.
     The scandal (known as the Bradford Sweet Poisoning) was instrumental in drafting and passing the 1860 Adulteration of Food and Drink Bill dictating how, and which, ingredients could be used, mixed and combined.  The UK Pharmacy Act of 1868 introduced tighter regulations regarding the handling and selling of certain poisons and medicines by druggists.

*This post is an example of something I call "shoehorning".  I've already used arsenic in the A post. And I'd done something for B (this would have fit there under Bradford). D was done as well (daft). But I really wanted to share this story. So I ditched the original idea of H is for Hemlock and substituted H is for Hardaker and "humbug" instead.

Letter G: The Choose Your Poison #AtoZChallenge

     The living slept with the dead, and the half-dead roamed on the landscape, dressed in rags and with some green about the mouth from the grass they plucked to eat.  So calloused were the men who collected bodies that they sat on the coffins enjoying a smoke between them.  There were those who walked miles, morning and eve, with barely a mouthful of bread; and men who dropped dead on the job like the ancient cart horses in their traces.
     Lovely, floury white potatoes were what they had lived on;  and when those began to rot in the ground, the people began to die.
     Most shared what little they had, all of them starving in dribs and drabs together.  But there were some who hoarded in secret, and "played the poor mouth" whilst gobbling up their stores in the darkness.  Bloody greedy bogtrotters he called them.  There were families where the Da had gotten work in England and sent a mite home for the family.  He could smell roasting meat on the wind sometimes, trickling from those few chimneys, and his mouth would fairly drip.
     A family like that there was, and the boys were plump and healthy and turned up their noses at the raggedy troops from the shanties. Till they began to retch and run to the privy by turns, the oldest falling down in a foaming fit right in the middle of the street.  Like mad dogs, they were.  Twas the doctor who found the sack of green potatoes, fleshy but sprouted, stowed away in a corner cupboard.  Had they offered to share, they might have been told by Maggie or even Mean Old Bridey that you don't eat green potatoes on account of them being poison.
     Better to die softly and honestly of the hunger, then.
     This was one of the stories my grandfather told me, peace be upon his soul, of the Great Famine in the old country. 

Today's bit of fiction features Green Potato Poisoning.  Never eat potatoes that are spoiled or have green skin. Never eat the sprouts (you can remove those and safely eat the potato if the skin is not green). The nerve toxin solanine is produced in the green part of the potato (leaves, stem, sprouts, green parts of skin) and can cause vomiting, diarrhea, convulsions, hallucinations, circulatory collapse and even death.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Letter F: The Choose Your Poison #AtoZChallenge

 "PET-MIPS-anim" by Jens Maus ( - Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

   Fluorine is a pale yellow gas with an irritating odor. It is shipped as a cryogenic (frozen) liquid. It is toxic when breathed in or absorbed through the skin, and is also irritating to eyes and mucus membranes. Elemental fluorine is highly toxic to all living organisms. Hydrofluoric acid, the water solution of hydrogen fluoride, is a liquid contact poison. Even though it is classified as a "weak" acid, it is far more dangerous than the better-known nitric, hydrochloric and sulfuric acids because it penetrates tissue much more quickly.

    For you writers, here are some interesting twists. Symptoms of exposure to hydrofluoric acid may not be immediately evident; the delay can take anywhere from 8 to 24 hours, and the burns may not be painful since the acid damages nerves.

    Plenty of time for a villain to make a getaway.

    Like some other poisons, fluorine has a life-saving use in the medical field. Fluorine-18, an isotope of fluorine, is often found in radioactive tracers for Positron Emission Tomography (PET scan). The most common tracer is fluorodeoxyglucose which, after IV injection, is absorbed by glucose-loving tissues such as the brain and most malignant tumors. (See very cool PET scan image above.)
     It has a half-life of about 109.771 (which is about 20 minutes). So after your scan you won't stay radioactive forever. Or am I the only one who worries about these things?

Here There Be "Dragon Of the Stars" Plus Join the Scavenger Hunt! #BookBoost

Today's big news: 
                     SCAVENGER HUNT!  Where is Mini-Alex? Look at the picture at the end of this post. Guess the location of Mini-Alex in the picture. Then comment below and visit the other participants to win an autographed copy of the new book Dragon of the Stars, tons of bookmarks & postcards, or a $20.00 iTunes gift card. 
Visit Alex for a list of the participants. (Open through April 11 – winner announced April 13 at Alex’s blog.)

Available today!
Dragon of the Stars By Alex J. Cavanaugh
Science Fiction – Space Opera/Adventure/Military
Print ISBN 9781939844064 EBook ISBN 9781939844057

The ship of legends…
The future is set for Lt. Commander Aden Pendar, poised to secure his own command and marriage to the queen’s daughter. But when the Alliance declares war on their world, Aden finds his plans in disarray and is told he won’t make captain. One chance remains–the Dragon. Lost many years prior, the legendary ship’s unique weapon is Hyrath’s only hope. Can Aden find the Dragon, save his people, and prove he’s capable of commanding his own ship? 


Alex J Cavanaugh is a sci-fi writer whose works include the Amazon Best Sellers CassaStar, CassaFire, and CassaStorm. Alex is also a blogger who posts about music, books and films; founder of the Insecure Writers Support Group; a longtime host of the annual A to Z Challenge; and a tireless promoter and supporter of his fellow bloggers. Alex (AKA Ninja Captain Alex) has a side-kick, Mini-Alex, the subject of our scavenger hunt.

Where Is Mini-Alex? Your guess is as good as mine! Comment below for a chance to win!

*Looking for today's A to Z Challenge post on poisons? It will appear later this afternoon. C'mon back!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Letter E : The Choose Your Poison #AtoZChallenge

 Waste sign.jpg
     "Daddy" she sobbed, brokenly.
     "Shhhh.  It's okay, Michelle.  He's at peace." Laura stroked her sister's hair. "You've taken such good care of him. You hated him for so many years, but you came through in the end.  I can't believe that you sacrificed so much to take care of him these last few years. I guess I was really wrong about you."
     The room was eerily quiet, now that the machines had been silenced.  Laura leaned over the hospital bed and bent to impart one last kiss on her father's forehead. She hesitated at the last moment, puzzled. In death, his mouth had slowly fallen open and his tongue - with a decidedly neon green tinge - was visible.
     "Michelle, what's with his mouth?  I've never..."
     The on-call doctor bustled into the room, still talking loudly to someone in the hallway, so Laura heard her say only  "....and he asked me to get him a lime slushy."
     "The chaplain will be here in a few minutes.  We'll give you all of the time you need to make arrangements.  I'm very sorry for your loss."  The doctor flipped through a chart.  "Convulsions and acute renal failure.  Not entirely unexpected, given his age and his history of diabetes, alcoholism and heart trouble. Although things did happen rather rapidly.  We'll need to know what to uhhh...what arrangements have been made for the body."
     Michelle sniffled loudly. "Cremation.  He told me yesterday he wanted to be cremated."
     "I want an autopsy." Laura yanked her coat from the back of a chair and flung it on.  She turned to the doctor.  "And I want every test ever known to man done on him."
     Another wet outburst erupted her from sister.  "They're not going to cut him up. It's horrible. Disgusting. He wouldn't want that."
     Laura studied her sister coldly.  "He wouldn't have wanted to have poison poured down his throat either. I know exactly what you've done. I remember what happened to our dog Pluto. And Daddy hated lime flavored anything."

     Today's poison is ethylene glycol,  a colorless, odorless, sweet-tasting chemical found in many household products, including antifreeze (which is often green, yellow or orange in color).  Antifreeze poses a significant risk to pets and children because of its sweetness.  Most cases of  ethylene glycol poisoning are accidental;  however, it has also been used as both a murder weapon and a means of suicide. There have also been documented cases of death resulting from someone knowingly or unknowingly drinking it as a substitute for alcohol (ethanol).

Recent Case: Texas doctor Ana Maria Gonzalez-Angulo gets 10 yrs in poisoning


Friday, April 3, 2015

Letter D: The Choose Your Poison #AtoZChallenge

     His father fought in the second World War, was captured by German soldiers and imprisoned in a series of concentration camps including Auschwitz-Birkenau.  He was a presidential candidate, a popular political force, a former prime minister. The campaign was bitterly contested, but he had built an excellent rapport with many of his countrymen, taking the time to shake hands and meet face-to-face with them.   And then he became ill.
     He was flown to a special clinic and treated at first for pancreatitis, bloating, jaundice, and a viral infection.  But it was the appearance of pockmarks all over his face that gave a British toxicologist a clue as to the man's condition.  He declared that the facial disfigurement had all the hallmarks of chloracne, which results from a particular type of poison.
File:Viktor Yuschenko.jpg

     Have you guessed our mystery man's name?  It's Viktor Yushchenko, former President of Ukraine, and today's featured poison is dioxin.
     Yushchenko survived, but it has never been proven how, or even whether, he was poisoned. A Dutch toxicologist claimed that he found dioxin levels 6000 times normal in his blood. Another doctor said it was 1000 times the average level. A third doctor opined that there was no evidence of dioxin poisoning other than the chloracne, and later claimed that he was forced to resign and had also been threatened by Yushchenko's cohorts.
     For years afterward there were  claims of falsified information, skewed lab results, bribery, and other forms of good-old-fashioned thuggery. Blood tests by Ukrainian doctors in November 2005 were mysteriously destroyed.
     Yushchenko believes he was deliberately poisoned during a dinner in 2004; at least one of the men that he thinks crucial to the investigation is in Russia and refuses to be extradited.  Others have blamed it on the dinner, all right, but claim that it was the sushi, not the company which made Yushchenko so ill. It all reads like a long, convoluted spy novel.
     Fortunately, he survived the episode although he may suffer from the effects all of his life. I last saw Yushchenko on television during the recent political upheaval, when Yushchenko urged his country to choose integration with Europe over ties with Russia. His face looked far less disfigured than it had 10 years prior.

     If the word dioxin sounds familiar to you, then Agent Orange may be the reason. Agent Orange (named for the striped barrels it was shipped in) was an herbicide containing dioxin which was sprayed heavily over fields and forest canopy in Vietnam by the Americans during the war. In addition to thousands of American soldiers, the Red Cross estimates that up to 3 million Vietnamese have been affected by dioxin poisoning, which can also cause various cancers and birth defects.
      Dioxins are by-products and are formed as toxic side residues in the production of PCBs, metal smelting, waste incineration and chlorine bleaching of paper.  Dioxin concentrates in the body's fatty tissues and is extremely difficult to get rid of.
     In 2012 the EPA released a report which concluded after reviewing mounds of evidence collected over 21 years that there are potentially serious effects at even ultra-low levels of exposure.  Most of us have traces of dioxins in our bodies, primarily through eating fish, meat and other animal products.
     One more reason to become vegan, I suppose.

The Red Cross estimates that three million Vietnamese have been affected by Agent Orange, including 150,000 children born with severe birth defects. - See more at:
The Red Cross estimates that three million Vietnamese have been affected by Agent Orange, including 150,000 children born with severe birth defects. - See more at:
The Red Cross estimates that three million Vietnamese have been affected by Agent Orange, including 150,000 children born with severe birth defects. - See more at: