There are a lot of poisons that can cause significant harm to adults, kids, and pets. But did you ever wonder what kind of things make an expert answering phones in the IPC have a dry mouth, rapid heart rate, and raise the hair on the back of their neck?
In my 30 years of experience, there are few things that get my adrenaline pumping more than calls from people who find old, dusty containers of chemicals or pesticides in grandpa’s old wood shed, grandma’s creaky basement, that musty crawl space, or a rickety old barn. Many ultra-toxic poisons once available for sale to the general public many decades ago are no longer marketed and have been replaced by safer alternatives. However, people still occasionally unearth old containers of these poisons without knowing how dangerous they can be.
Here are some examples of mega-toxic poisons the IPC has received calls on that are a clinical toxicologist’s worst nightmare:
1) Liquid mercury (stored in mayonnaise jars): If one of these were to break in a home, the contamination could be so severe that the house would have to be evacuated for days to weeks (or even condemned) for thousands of dollars of clean-up. What a mess!
2) Cyanide solution (found in old whisky bottles). As you probably know, a swallow or two of cyanide could be rapidly fatal. Few people are aware, however, that if one of these bottles breaks there can be a release of hydrogen cyanide gas and just a few breaths of this gas can be deadly.
3) Lead arsenate ant powder. Here is your ultimate “toxic two-fer.” This one gives you two neurotoxic heavy metal poisons for the price of one (i.e lead and arsenic).
4) Strychnine. Very tiny amounts of this old-time rat poison can cause painful muscle spasms and convulsions all while you are fully awake and conscious. Ouch!
5) White/yellow phosphorus. Historically used in old matches and as a rat poison, white or yellow phosphorus can cause serious life threatening and painful internal burns if swallowed. Poisonings have been characterized by the presence of “smoking luminescent stools.” Yuck!
6) Vacor. This mouse and rat poison was banned in the U.S. in 1979 since poisonings can result in damage to insulin producing cells of the pancreas. Permanent diabetes is possible.
7) Nicotine sulfate. Perhaps you did not know it, but the nicotine you crave if you are a smoker is also a very toxic insecticide. (Maybe this fact will help you kick the habit.) Just one milliliter of a 40% nicotine sulfate constitutes more than a lethal dose for an adult. Holy smokes!
8) ______________. I don’t want to give you the name of this chemical since I do not want this info to fall into the wrong hands. Some years ago a guy called the IPC stating he had a 25 lb bag of this stuff which his deceased father used while he was working as an exterminator. Assuming a minimum lethal adult dose of 50 mg, this caller had enough chemical, if evenly spread out, to kill nearly a quarter million people. Yikes!
So, what is the take-home message? (There must be more to this than providing you with some toxicology trivia you can use for your next game of Trivial Pursuit.)
These poisons are so dangerously scary that they don’t belong in anyone’s homes, basements, garages, barns, etc. Even under lock and key. We advise everyone to take a few minutes to cautiously investigate those dark, dank, dusty, cob webbed areas where these poison hazards may be lurking, and if you come across something unfamiliar, proceed with caution! If you do find any extremely old chemicals or containers, we strongly suggest that you do not handle or move them and do not dispose/discard them in the household trash. An accidental breakage of the container may expose you to toxic chemicals that you may inhale or get on your skin.
Additionally, the mishandling of these chemicals may require a thorough environmental cleanup which may be an expensive proposition. For assistance in disposing old, toxic chemicals you can call the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency at 888-372-1996 or the National Pesticide Network at 800-858-7378.
And of course, if someone has been exposed to ANYTHING potential harmful (no matter how old or scary), call the IPC at 1-800-222-1222.
By: Tony Burda and Jacob Salaysay