poison

Speakeasy Science

Tag archives for poison

(Just a note: The giveaway period for the audiobook of The Poisoner’s Handbook has ended. If your comment is not published, it’s too late to be considered for a free copy. But still glad to hear your ideas! Winners to be notified on Wednesday). One of the most interesting – and I think important –…

Spin, baby, spin

In a recent discussion on this blog, an interesting thread appeared: the idea that BP’s heavy use of chemical dispersants to break up the Gulf oil spill was as much damage cover up as damage control. Here are a few examples: My suspicion is that the main reason they used these dispersants was to hide…

The Barren Planet Cocktail

So, yesterday, a friend of mine suggested that BP should stand for Barren Planet rather than British Petroleum. And today The New York Times reported that despite all the evidence that BP’s favorite dispersant (yes, Corexit) is more poisonous and less effective than others on the market, and despite the fact that the EPA order…

Once upon a time – by which I mean the 19th century – people spilled the poison arsenic into their lives with free and merry hands. Arsenic was mixed into medicines, into cosmetics, into weed killers, insecticies, rat poisons, fly papers. It was the primary ingredient in a number of well-known dyes used to color…

Poison, Politics and Paranoia

On July 4, 1850, U.S. President Zachary Taylor attended an Independence Day celebration where he ate well – snacking on fresh cherries and creamy milk, sampling a variety of treats pressed on him by enthusiastic well-wishers. Five days later, Taylor was dead of a severe attack of gastroenteritis. And for decades afterward, suspicions lingered that…

How to Mix a Heart-Stopping Salad

One evening,  in the early summer of 2008, a Colorado sheriff’s deputy named Jonathan Allen came home to find that his wife had made him a “special” dinner. Waiting on the table was his favorite spicy spaghetti dish and a big leafy bowl of salad. As he told investigators later, the salad was surprisingly bitter.…

Like the shining dawn

The chemical symbol for the metallic element gold is Au, taken from the Latin word aurum meaning ‘shining dawn’. In the Periodic Table of Elements it occupies a companionable neighborhood of other metals, tucked neatly between platinum (Pt) and mercury (Hg). But as origin of its chemical symbol indicates, we’ve long found difficult to be…

A Golden Fairy Tale

In 16th century France, there lived a king with a beautiful and somewhat mysterious mistress.  Diane de Poitiers was almost 20 years older than Henri II but she looked like one of his contemporaries. She had skin of a near porcelain white and auburn hair as fine as silk thread. Famed for her intellect as…

The Blue Man Mystery

In an earlier post, I wrote about the possible copper poisoning of the great British poet and artist William Blake. The very simple lesson inherent in that story is that a strong dose of metals on a regular basis is generally bad for a person’s health. But one could argue that this is too simple…

Digging up our chemical past

In the forensic laboratories of the 1920s, a chemist checking for poison could make a beaker glow with the brilliance of a gemstone.  Color tests, as they were called, derived from the fact that many toxic materials turn a specific hue if exposed to the right mixture of heat, cold, acid and base. The results…