Poison in the cupboard

Browsing through the most recent annual report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers, I began to worry that my choice of reading material is becoming too dark. Didn't I used to relax with novels instead of lists of household materials used in suicides?

My husband is sitting across the room, reading a normal book. I peer at him over the top of my laptop. Can he tell that I'm comparing the toxic effects of drain cleaners in the kitchen cupboards and foxglove plants from the backyard?

No, he's engrossed in his book (and I'm sorry to tell you that it's not my masterpiece, The Poisoner's Handbook). Of course this is a man who doesn't trust me to pour him a cup of coffee anymore. He's become unusually speedy recently in getting to the coffee pot first. Although to be fair, so many people react that way these days.

The funny thing is - as the poison center report reminds us -  we tend to act as if poisons are something exotic, when in fact, they're the stuff of our every day lives.  We're riveted  by espionage style poisonings - like the 2006 murder of former Russian spy Alexander Litveninko with polonium-210. The woman in North Florida who, last year, poisoned herself with tea brewed from oleander in her backyard doesn't give us the same kind of warning thrill.

But she should.  The 2008 annual report I'm pondering lists painkillers,  cosmetics, household cleaners, sedatives, art and craft supplies, vitamins and plants as among the most frequent everyday poisoners in this country.  More than 2 million poisoning cases - mostly accidental - were reported by the county's poison control centers that year.

Just a reminder that we're less at risk from assassins than from ourselves.
Here's a link to the poison center reports: http://www.aapcc.org/dnn/NPDSPoisonData/AnnualReports/tabid/125/Default…

More musings on their contents to come. Stay tuned!

More like this

Was Walter Krivitsky poisoned at the Hotel Bellevue in Washington -- or was he shot? I used to think of him when I was drinking beer downstairs in the old Tiber Creek Pub.

By Dennis Limbach (not verified) on 03 Feb 2010 #permalink

Also, your comment about the accidental oleander posioning in Florida reminded me of the poisonous garden described in Ian Fleming's "You Only Live Twice." I remember being particularly intrigued as a child by Fleming's note that someone had accidentally killed himself by eating meat spitted on an oleander branch and then cooked over a fire.

By Dennis Limbach (not verified) on 03 Feb 2010 #permalink

Oh, that's interesting. I didn't remember the Fleming bit but I read and loved another mystery novel that used the same device. It's called The Piano Bird and was written Lucille Kallen. She was the only woman writer for "The Show of Shows and later wrote a short series of mystery novels starring a reporter for a small New England paper. This was one of them and again a character dies after eating meat cooked on an oleander branch. I remember being fascinated by the fact that oleander poisoning affects one's sense of color - before she died, the victim kept complaining that her strawberry ice cream was yellow.

Everything I read suggests poison. Lots of "found dead" in his bed comments. But it's all pretty vague. My favorite is the report that there were 3 suicide notes beside his bed.

Just a small heads up.

Litveninko was poisoned with polonium 210 not plutonium. Just the chemist in me...