What have we Learned?


It is of no surprise that advancements continue to be made in various aspects of everyday life, thanks to research and studies alike we continue to learn more about this place we call Earth and what is on it. Growth of knowledge in areas like healthcare and technology are continuing to change the world. Although this information is generally met with exciting new opportunities, it can also open our eyes to shocking truths that a lack of knowledge and experience has faced us with in the past. In this article we are going to look at some of the 'ugly truths' we have learned over the years in relation to chemicals and hazardous materials, and the adverse effects that eventually came to surface.

Arsenic is a chemical element that has a strong history. "Arsenic occurs naturally in the environment in both organic (arsenic atoms bonded with carbon) and inorganic (no carbon) forms. Inorganic arsenic, the most abundant type, occurs with many other elements, particularly sulfur, oxygen and chlorine. Inorganic arsenic is the type associated with more adverse health effects for humans." Source

A piece of natural arsenic stone, yellow in colour

Historical Uses

• Historically, arsenic was known as the "poison of kings", used to poison kings and emperors.

• In the Victorian Era, it was mixed with vinegar and chalk and consumed by women as it was thought to assist in the pale complexion of their skin. It was also rubbed onto their arms and faces.

• Arsenic has been used to "enhance the colour" in products such as wallpaper.

• It has been used in the making of pharmaceuticals, leather tanning, pesticides and even candies.

A Victorian can of rodent and insect poison made with arsenic

What have we Learned?

Arsenic pigments were widely used in the dyeing process of products, but as the knowledge of the toxicity of arsenic grew, they were used less as pigments and more so in the production of insecticides.

"Occupational exposure studies in the copper smelting industry [were] extensive and have established definitive links between arsenic, a by-product of copper smelting, and lung cancer via inhalation" Source

Arsenic in groundwater has also posed a problem throughout the years, with its natural occurrence sometimes creating high traces to be found in drinking water. Published research has shown a direct link from high traces of arsenic in water to have a correlation to "increased incidence of cancer in lung, bladder, skin, kidney, liver, and potentially prostate. A number of non-cancer effects also are linked to exposure in drinking water, including skin lesions, cardiovascular disease, neurological effects, and diabetes" Source

So, what can we take from learning about the historical uses for such a toxic material?

The impact research and history's 'trial-and-error' has had on human health as well as the environment is unarguably impressive. With knowing the progression we have made thus far, it makes it even more clear just how important it is to follow the guidelines put in place for the use (or ban) of certain chemicals and hazardous materials. Why not take the precautions that have been implemented in order to prevent these negative health effects from occurring? What about the potentially more hazardous effects research has yet to uncover?