poison

Speakeasy Science

Tag archives for poison

What lies below

Recently, at events for my book, I sometimes find myself describing the gas carbon monoxide as a favorite poison. “It’s just so efficient,” I’ll joke. “And I like things that work.” In an academic sense, I do respectfully admire carbon monoxide’s simplicity (a carbon atom + an oxygen atom) and the way such basic chemical…

Firedamp

The old mining term for explosive gases in coal mines is “firedamp”. It seems illogical – I mean, a damp fire? – until you realize that it comes from the German word “dampf” for vapors. There are other “damps” in mining terminology – “afterdamp”, for instance, refers to the poisonous gas carbon monoxide, which tends…

The Methane Calculation

Almost 200 years ago, methane gas ignited in a coal mine in England, setting off an explosion that killed 92 miners. These were not miners as we think of them today – in the pre-child-labor-law world almost half were children, as young as eight years old. So that one can make an argument – regarding…

The moonshine murderer

A few days ago, I wrote about the lessons I’d learned while a young journalist in North Georgia on how to safely drink illegal alcohol (Moonshine Days). Probably because I had moonshine on my mind, I ended sharing stories about it with family and friends during a recent visit to the state. Just to let…

A couple days ago, I wrote a post (Tyger, Tyger, Copper, Copper) about the theory that the late, great British poet William Blake (1757-1827) and been killed by copper poisoning due to years of acid-etching copper plates as a print maker. One chemist promptly wrote to raise the possibility that it might instead have been…

Moonshine Days

My first job out of college, I was a police reporter for a small newspaper in North Georgia, situated in rolling foothills of the southern Appalachian mountains. Moonshine country, in fact. I was hardly a month on the job when agents at the local office of the federal government’s Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) offered…

Tyger, Tyger, Copper, Copper

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright In the forests of the night, What immortal hand or eye Could frame thy fearful symmetry? William Blake, the brilliant British poet, published “The Tyger” in 1794 and it’s always been one of my favorite poems. I studied him during a brief period when I thought I might want to be…

Lilies Not So Peaceful

I find it ironic – okay, I find it slightly hilarious – that the house plant which results in the most calls to poison control centers is called the Peace Lily. Next on the list is Pokeweed – which people have a bad habit of mistaking for other edible wild plants – followed by two…

National Poison Prevention Week

Let me begin with a confession: until I researched and wrote a book about poisons, The Poisoner’s Handbook, I never paid too much attention to National Poison Prevention Week. Like most of us, I was just too comfortable with our chemical culture, the toxic compounds that we use daily to clean our sinks and counters,…

When I was eight years old, my sister and I discovered that a small tree in our Louisiana backyard was dropping some thickly shelled nuts into the grass. We lovedĀ  eating fallen nuts; an enormous pecan tree carpeted the front yard with them every summer. But these were different – rounder and fatter. Curious, we…