The Poison Paradox: Chemicals as Friends and Foes

By John Timbrell | Go to book overview

4
Blood, Sweat, and Tears
Pesticides

The clinical features are those of haemorrhage—blood in the urine,
blood in the vomit, and bleeding from the nose.

THE EFFECTS OF INTENTIONAL OR ACCIDENTAL INGESTION OF A
RAT POISON AN ANTICOAGULANT)

Symptoms develop within twelve hours of exposure. The victim
commonly presents with a headache, blurred vision, tremor, twitch-
ing, and convulsions which may be followed by coma. Incontinence
and vomiting develop; other symptoms include sweating and exces-
sive production of saliva and tears.

THE EFFECTS OF POISONING BY ORGANOPHOSPHATE INSECTICIDES

Despite the fact that some of the substances used as pesticides have unpleasant and potentially lethal effects on humans, they are of great importance both in economic and human health terms. Humans have been changing their environment for thousands of years and in many different ways. First, attempts to control what were seen as pests probably simply involved killing them by force (shooting foxes, for example), fire (burning fields after harvesting to kill both animal and plant pests), or using manual methods to remove plant pests such as weeds. Only relatively recently have we become more sophisticated. In the nineteenth century farmers applied chemicals such as Bordeaux mixture (copper sulphate) to plants to kill fungus. There is evidence that the antifungal properties of sulphur compounds were known in very early times, and people with fungus infections (ringworm, for example) were encouraged to bathe in sulphurous springs.

Early herbicides were sodium chlorate and sodium arsenate; arsenic also features in one of the first insecticides, Paris Green, which contained

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