The Instrumentation Center













Contributor: Debra Pittman

TOXIC COLORS-Arsenic, Lead, Radium, Uranium

About the Display: This display features:

  • Rice - Inorganic arsenic finds its way into rice, and other foods, through the soil. The soil is contaminated by certain pesticides, mining, and other types of human activity. While plants grow, they absorb arsenic. Rice absorbs more arsenic than other commonly eaten foods, which is why there is a limit of arsenic-containing rice allowed in rice cereal for infants. However, the FDA does not have a limit for adults and instead recommends eating a balanced diet with a variety of foods!
  • Broccoli -  Broccoli, along with other cruciferous vegetables like brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and kale, contains a sulfur compound that attracts inorganic arsenic from the soil!
  • Carrot - Root vegetables can also draw arsenic from the soil. However, they do not contain as much arsenic as leafy vegetables grown in the same soil!
  • Arsenic and Old Lace movie - The classic movie follows a young newlywed who discovers his eccentric aunts' dark secret: they are murdering lonely bachelors at their home by giving them elderberry wine laced with arsenic, strychnine, and cyanide. The women claim they are doing a service by ending the suffering that the lonely bachelors are enduring. The cast also includes their son, Teddy, who is delusional and believes he is actually Teddy Roosevelt. The dark comedy was adapted to film by Julius J. Epstein and Phillip G. Epstein from the play of the same name by Joseph Kesselring. 
  • Pure arsenic metal - Of the three allotropes of arsenic (yellow, black and gray), the gray allotrope is the most stable and the only one used by industry.
  • Arsenic and Strychnine tablets - These sugar-coated tablets were distributed by Burroughs Wellcome and Co. The pills are Blaud pills, meaning they are mostly ferrous carbonate. Pierre Blaud first created Blaud pills for anemia. According to one source, the arsenic and strychnine promoted better metabolism in secondary anemia sufferers. 
  • Victorian-style wallpaper - In Victorian England, green was very fashionable. Scheele's Green and Paris Green were the favorites of the era and both contained deadly arsenic. Clothes, candles, curtains, paint, wallpaper, nearly everything green from this time period used one of the two dyes responsible for claiming lives. Wallpaper often used one of the dangerous pigments not only as a fashionable color, but also as an insecticide. The green wallpaper or paint, when wet, released arsenic into the air where it was inhaled by anyone unfortunate enough to be there. It has been speculated that Napoleon died of accidental arsenic poisoning from his wallpaper.  In a similar fashion to the Radium Girls, painters using the paint would lick their paint brushes to get a nice sharp point, giving them arsenic poisoning. Some children who ate candies colored with Scheele's Green reportedly died from ingesting the pigment. 

About the Contributor: Debra is a retired mother and grandmother from Napoleon, Ohio.

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Symbol: As

Atomic Number: 33

Atomic Mass: 74.9216 u

Electron Configuration: [Ar] 3d104s24p3

Year Discovered: 1250 (first isolated, although it has been known in compounds since ancient times)

Discovered By: Albertus Magnus

Last Updated: 6/27/22