.. arsenic and toxicology are interested in the pending crisis in India because of the wealth of information to be gained. It would be possible to discover what diseases arsenic causes and the information learned could help countries such as Taiwan, Chile, and Mongolia, where there are large problems with arsenic contamination. (Bagla and Kaiser 1996) Response from the Indian government to the crisis is low. They had approved a project that costs $25 million in 1995 that would supply piped water to the Malda district, but there has been scant improvement.
In fact, the problem has grown more widespread. Tube wells that were not previously contaminated are now tainted and the federal government still seems oblivious to the gravity of the tragedy. However, experts from around the world are continuing their efforts to study the problem and are seeking help from WHO and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). (Bagla and Kaiser 1996) The water is not the only place where arsenic can harm humans however. Arsenic can be found almost everywhere, including your next meal. Fish often contain traces of arsenic and other chemicals. Arsenic is also commonly added to chicken feed to accelerate growth and stimulate the production of eggs.
Often traces of this element and other chemicals can be found in the carcasses of the chickens when they are killed for sale in the stores. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has little chance to test the meat before it is packed and sent into the markets. Even if a sample was to be tested, by the time the results are returned the meat is already for sale at the supermarkets. (Dadd 1992) Another place where arsenic can be found is in the unborn children. In Bulgaria, the unborn children of the women living in vicinity of a copper-smelting plant have a high mortality rate. They are often born with fatal defects due to the fact that their mothers were exposed to high levels of arsenic.
Certain defects occurred consistently in the studies done, such as small forebrains and ear pits that are underdeveloped. (Stone 1994) There are many stories about victims being intentionally poisoned with arsenic, but do any of these poisonings ever occur in real life? Well, some historians have held that Pope Alexander the VI was murdered with red wine laced with arsenic, (Stone 1994) and there are other, more lucky, victims who would say yes, intentional arsenic poisoning does occur in real life. Quite a few victims seem to be men. Among them include J.J. Walker, Mr. Maybrick of the Maybrick case, and an unhappily married man.
Two out of three survived the effects of the poisoning, but recovery has been slow and may never be complete. J.J. Walker was first admitted to Providence Hospital due to severe pain in the abdomen. The doctors were at a lost as to what was causing the pain. At first, the doctors thought that the problem was appendicitis, but tests showed that it was far more serious. Walker had a low blood count for all three types of blood cells, but his bowel contents were normal.
As doctors ran tests to find out what was wrong, Walker’s condition worsened and his lower legs became paralyzed. Finally, the medics thought of poisoning and ran several tests; among them was a test for arsenic. It turned out that J.J. Walker had ingested arsenic, several times in rather large doses. Investigators were sent to Walker’s workplace and home but found no traces of arsenic.
He was even assessed by a psychiatrist to see if he was suicidal and his wife was also questioned closely, but all searches came up empty-handed. After two months of treatment, the effects of the arsenic began to lessen and the paralysis that had traveled up to his chest retreated; though he still needed a cane to walk. During his stay at the hospital, Walker discovered that his best friend and his wife were having an affair and that it was his wife that had poisoned him. Needless to say, the Walkers divorced. (Weaver 1995) The Maybrick case is another incidence of a husband being poisoned.
It occurred over a century ago, but it still commands some interest. Mrs. Maybrick was convicted for murdering her husband with arsenic by the jury based on circumstantial evidence. Upon inspection however, it seems like Mrs. Maybrick should have been acquitted.
Any points in the case that indicated her innocence were ridiculed by the judge. It was shown later that the judge was ailing from paretic dementia. The evidence against the wife was that she had bought arsenical flypaper and soon afterwards Mr. Maybrick became ill with excruciating stomach and intestinal inflammation. Arsenic was found in his food and also around the house.
However, the jury failed to recognize that Mr. Maybrick was a chronic arsenic eater, which would explain the arsenic around the house. Indeed, Mr. Maybrick had not eaten the food made by his wife the day that he became seriously ill. Along with other instances that showed the lack of evidence against the wife, Mrs.
Maybrick should have been acquitted. (Flanagin 1995) Arsenic is extremely hard to recognize and sometimes takes doctors a while to discover the reason for a patient’s illness. In the case of the unhappily married man, the doctors thought that he was afflicted with Guillain-Barr. For over a year they treated him for an illness he did not have. While he continued to worsen, they found he had hyperkeratosis, weak muscles, and white transverse lines upon his nails. (see Figure 8-A) Arsenic was finally suspected and samples of the man’s hair, nails, and urine were taken to test for the poison.
Arsenic was found in high concentrations in all three samples. In the hair, there was 97 mg/kg. Normal concentrations are 0.5-. 5 mg/kg. In the nails there was 150 mg/kg, while the normal amount was 4-10 mg/kg.
The arsenic level in the urine sample was equally high compared with normal conditions. He was treated with intramuscular dimercaprol and eventually recovered but he was still on the recuperation agenda. The doctors were still unaware of the origin of the arsenic poisoning. Eventually though, his wife confessed to putting the deadly element in the form of an ant-killer in his meals because she wanted to end their marriage and receive custody of their child. (Navarro et al. 1996) Though arsenic was the poison par excellence, toxicologists now know so much about it that it is unprofitable for the poisoner to use it.
Indeed, most cases of arsenic poisoning nowadays stem from arsenic-tainted environments or handling substances contaminated by arsenic. (Bodin and Cheinisse 1970) Arsenic is a very potent poison that works quickly, especially when ingested in a fairly large dose. Just over a hundred milligrams of arsenic trioxide would kill. In a large dose, arsenic can kill fairly quickly and the victim would die before the start of the archetypal manifestations to the nervous system. Symptoms of arsenic poisoning include inflammation of the gastric and intestinal areas along with severe vomiting and diarrhea spotted with blood. Excruciating pain, a severe thirst, and a general attack on all the systems of the body is experienced by the patient.
If the patient is fortunate, the cardiovascular system would collapse and death would intervene within a few hours. However, some victims remain alive for several days. This torture is made worse because the patient remains rational and intelligible. Other symptoms include hyperkeratosis, which hardens and thicken the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet. The patient’s skin coloring might also become a coffee color and scabby. (Bodin and Cheinisse 1970) It is often difficult to recover from an arsenic poisoning. Severe damage is done to many parts of the body. Treatment includes (according to the book Treatment of Acute Poisonings): 1.
Intensive supportive therapy 2. Treatment with dimercaprol should be initiated at once .. ; 4 mg/kg intramuscularly every four hours for 48 hours, followed by 3 mg/kg twice daily for eight days constitutes the maximum recommended dosage. These injections are painful and locally irritant. They should therefore be given in different sites successively.
3. Renal damage may be severe and require peritoneal dialysis or haemodialysis. 4. Liver damage may require conventional therapy, and where this fails exchange blood transfusion. (Matthew and Lawson 1970) If arsenic does not kill you outright, it causes cancer. The studies done in Taiwan were due to the epidemic of bladder cancer, believed to be caused by arsenic in the water. In Crdoba, Argentina, it is the same: arsenic laden water and a high cancer rate.
In fact, the cancer causes 23 percent of the deaths in the area. (Schroeder1974) A good test to detect the presence of even a minute amount of the element was developed by English chemist James Marsh. The test is named the Marsh test in honor of him. The sample to be tested is put into a hydrogen generator. If there is any arsenic in the substance, it would be converted to arsine (AsH3). Arsine then combines with the evolved hydrogen. Next, the hydrogen is heated as it moves through a glass tube, thus breaking up the arsine and the arsenic is left in the tube.
The miniscule amounts still produce a considerable stain. (Bodin and Cheinisse 1970) Conclusion As more and more is learned about arsenic, the world becomes better prepared to deal with the problems caused by this element. It is one of the most common elements and is easily available. As it is right now, arsenic poses a serious threat to the lives of nearly all humans because of its toxicity and amount in the world. Several countries have already felt the damage caused by arsenic.
The poison travels easily in water and is present in much of the world’s groundwater, which is a large source of our drinking water. Arsenic has been shown to cause cancer and deaths. However, the element is obviously very ambiguous because in other studies it has been shown to have a healing effect. Any research done within the next few years would greatly add to our knowledge of the element and enable us to protect ourselves. The impending crisis in India would be a good opportunity to study the effects of the poison and perhaps show the rest of the world the importance of awareness and spur them into action.
Arsenic is a deadly element that must be contained and regulated more strictly than it is now. As yet, few people know much about the effects of arsenic. This is unfortunate since it is an element that will most likely affect the lives of many people on this planet within the next few decades. As said before, arsenic is a very ambiguous element. It has the both effect of curing diseases and causing them.
In addition, its colorful history makes it a highly entertaining topic to study. With its impact on humankind and in the ecosystem, it also offers a ready problem for scientists to work on that will impact many lives. With more knowledge, the world will be able to use arsenic in the manners most beneficial to humankind. Science.