Are you afraid of being poisoned? From food, for example? Of course, that’s why we wash our food and cook it properly. We know that if we don’t, we might get an upset stomach, diarrhea or headaches. What you don’t know is that we ingest poisons we aren’t aware of, and can get so sick over time that you may die. Symptoms can appear so late and be so unspecific that help may arrive too late.
August 14, 1996, Karen Wetterhahn, the professor of chemistry who was specializing in toxic metal exposure at Dartmouth College, accidentally spilled a few drops of a colorless Mercury component called dimethyl mercury on her hands, covered by latex gloves. She knew that dimethyl mercury is very toxic, what she didn’t know was that it can and did penetrate her undamaged latex gloves and her skin, deadly poisoning her entire body within 15 seconds. She felt fine and didn’t have any symptoms for months and considered herself healthy. Six months later, she became very ill and was admitted to the hospital in January of 1997. She went into a coma, despite being treated – and died that June.
What strikes me in this case is that even though everyone knew she was dealing with mercury, they couldn’t make a diagnosis early enough to save her life. That’s how dangerous toxins are, and how difficult it is to diagnose poisoning schlüssel klemmt im schloss.
But she was not alone.
210 BC. Ancient China.The Emperor of the United China and the initiator of the Great Wall of China project: Uin Shi Huang, was looking for eternal life. But how could he get it? He believed it was hidden in Penglai City on Penglai Mountain, which was the base of the Eight Immortals. The Emperor sent thousands of men on ships to find this mountain. No one came back, because they knew that without the elixir of life they would be killed. Therefore, they went ahead and found and colonized Japan – that’s why the Chinese Emperor had to get ‘magic pills’ from his doctors and scientists, and after taking them he died. The reason: those pills contained mercury. Those pills did not make him immortal, but they made his name immortal because he became the first famous man poisoned and killed by one of the most dangerous and well known contemporary poisons – mercury.
The privilege of being poisoned by mercury however does not only belong to famous people.
Have you ever heard the expression: “mad as a hatter”? You probably have. What you may not know is in the 18th and 19th centuries, many felt hat manufacturing workers went mad from mercury exposure used in the solutions for curing animal pelts. Apparently mad was Theophillius Carter, whom Lewis Carroll, the author of ” Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland “, personally knew and was believed to have inspired the vivacious character ‘the Mad Hatter’.
Mercury is very dangerous: it damages the brain, nerves, kidneys and lungs. It causes fatigue, pain, itching, swelling, hair and tooth loss, muscle weakness, memory problems, irritability, personality changes and insomnia. Because it prevents your body from clearing catecholamines, you get too much epinephrine with resulting heart palpitations, sweating and high blood pressure. But does this deadly toxin get into your body?
October 23, 2008. Broadway, New York. The famous American actor Jeremy Piven appeared in the Broadway hit play “Speed-the-Plow”, co-starring Elisabeth Moss from Mad Men, and Raul Esparza – a three time Tony nominee. Soon, Mr. Piven misses a few performances and announces that he’s not going to perform due to a mysterious illness. The author of the play David Mamet joked that Mr. Piven had decided to leave “to pursue a career as a thermometer”. It was a very cruel joke because Mr. Piven was suffering from Mercury toxicity. But how did he get Mercury poisoning? Simple – he ate sushi twice a day for 20 years, and possibly Chinese herbs.
However, sushi is not the only source you can get mercury from. Other sources of mercury are thymerosal from vaccines, fluorescent lamps, cosmetics, waste disposal and other human generated sources as well as dental amalgams. According to OSHA, a dental amalgam is toxic and dentists cannot throw it into the waste basket – but they can put it into your mouth for 15 to 20 years. How beautifully ironic.
Mercury is not the only heavy metal that is deadly poison; there’s another one which is always around us. It’s poisoned and even killed plenty of people, the famous among them. But sometimes it takes more than a century to find out what the killer is.
May 7, 1824. The Kärntnertor Theater in Vienna.Famous composer and conductor Ludwig van Beethoven was eager to defeat Italian composers like Rossini in Vienna, where Italian music was dominating. He changed the premiere of his Ninth Symphony from Berlin to Vienna. He knew that this was the first time that a composer used voices in a symphony. What he didn’t know was that his Symphony # 9 will become the best known piece of classical music ever known – and that part of it (“Ode to Joy”) would become the European Anthem. He stood in front of the orchestra and chorus and began conducting. The symphony was finished, the audience burst into cheers. It gave the composer standing ovations, but strangely – Ludwig van Beethoven continued conducting.