Toxic Tuesday – Arsenic and old peppermints

Imagine popping a nice sweet into your mouth. It should be a pretty safe treat, right?

Not in Bradford, England, back in October of 1858.

Due to a mistake made by an assistant at a chemist’s shop, arsenic trioxide was sold instead of a filler called “daft.” The resulting batch of candies contained twice the lethal dose of arsenic in each candy.

Within days 25 people died, while at least 90 adults and 50 children became extremely ill. Counted among the stricken was Humbug Willie himself, who became sick from handling his own candies.

The aftermath of this accidental mass poisoning led to a requirement that arsenic include a coloring agent so that it would not be mistaken for other chemicals, as well as tighter regulation of arsenicals (chemicals containing arsenic). In the US, problematic patent medicines and disease outbreaks from food led to the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act, which created the Food and Drug Administration.

This case reminds me of one of the truisms of toxicology, that laws regulating poisons are written in blood. (Laws regulating poisson are written in fish-hooks)


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