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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Fossil fuels, asbestos, lead and white phosphorus

The beginning of the fossil fuel era

1882 [Thomas Edison]
Edison's work led to the first commercial power plant in 1882.

1903 [Charles Curtis]
The first steam turbine generator, pioneered by Curtis, was put into operation at the Newport Electric Corporation in Newport, Rhode Island.

Asbestos related diseases

Although the health risks associated with asbestos had been long observed and were confirmed scientifically early in the Twentieth Century, it was not until the 1970s that the Australian community was made aware of the problem.

Asbestos was phased out in Australia after 1980. It was finally banned from building products in 1989, though it remained in gaskets and brake linings until recently. Asbestos was prohibited completely after 31 December 2003, and can not be imported, used or recycled.

Asbestos is a fibrous mineral that was widely used in Australia in the 20th Century for many industrial and domestic applications.

Inhalation of asbestos fibres has been shown to lead to a number of serious health risks, including asbestosis and the cancer mesothelioma.

As these can take a number of decades to develop, it is likely that the effects on the Australian community of exposure to asbestos will continue to increase into the 21st Century.

Lead alert facts: Lead in house paint

Before 1970, paints containing high levels of lead were used in many Australian houses. Exposure to lead is a health hazard. Even small amounts of dust or chips of paint containing lead, generated during minor home repairs, can be a health risk.

Lead in domestic paint has declined from 50% before 1965, to 1% in 1965. In 1992, it was reduced to 0.25%, and in 1997 it was further reduced to 0.1%.

On Catalyst: could lead exposure in childhood lead to an adult life marked by violent crime?

Any house painted before 1970 is likely to contain leaded paint
Any house painted before 1970 is likely to contain leaded paint
"We've undertaken similar studies in Australia which show a very strong relationship between lead in air and crime 22 years later."

The beginning of the white phosphorus match era until the final ban

1830 [Charles Sauria]
The U.S. Congress passed a law placing a prohibitively high tax on them in 1913.
Sauria formulated a match using white phosphorus. However, the phosphorus was deadly. Many people developed a disorder known as 'phossy jaw'. Children who sucked on matches developed skeletal deformities. Phosphorus factory workers got bones diseases. One pack of matches contained enough phosphorus to kill a person.  Deaths and suicides from eating the heads of matches became frequent.

Ripper Street- A case of Phossy  Jaw, in it’s worst stages.
True horror story - A case of Phossy  Jaw, in it’s worst stages.
1838 [The first case of "phossy jaw" was recorded]
The victim, a female Viennese matchstick maker, had been exposed to the phosphorous vapors over a five-year period. The average time between exposure to the phosphorous vapors and the appearance of "phossy jaw" was about five years, but only about 5% of those exposed were inflicted with this disfiguring and often lethal affliction

The infamous "phossy jaw" became an epidemic of exposed bone osteonecrosis exclusively in the jaws began around 1838. This epidemic of osteonecrosis produced pain, swelling, debilitation, and a reported mortality of 20% and was linked to "yellow phosphorous," the key ingredient in "strike-anywhere" matches. In match-making factories, workers called "mixers," "dippers," and "boxers" were exposed to heated fumes containing this compound. Related to the duration of exposure, many of these workers developed painful exposed bone in the mouth, whereas their office-based counterparts did not.

1888 [the “London matchgirls” strike]
Phossy jaw, also known as phosphorus necrosis of the jaw, was most commonly seen among match workers in the 19th and early 20th centuries – famously, the “London matchgirls,” whose strike of 1888 brought the problem into the public eye – fifty years after the first recorded case.
In those days, matches were made with white phosphorus, and prolonged exposure to the vapor of the substance caused deposits to form in the victims’ jawbones. Throbbing toothaches, extreme swelling of the gums and abscesses in the jawbone followed. The afflicted bones would also take on a green-white tinge, while severe brain damage also lay in wait for those already suffering.

The only known treatment was to surgically remove the jawbones; if it were left unchecked, organ failure and death would result. The disease also caused tremendous pain and disfigurement, and the rotting bone tissue emitted a putrid-smelling discharge. Phossy jaw did not begin to decline until 1906 – sixty eight years after the first recorded case.

1872 [Bans commence on white phosphorus matches]
Finland prohibited the use of white phosphorus in 1872, followed by Denmark in 1874, France in 1897, Switzerland in 1898, and the Netherlands in 1901.

1898 [Henri Savene and Emile David Cahen]
Two French chemists, Henri Savene and Emile David Cahen, developed a safe match using phosphorus sesquisulfide that was patented in 1898. They proved that the substance was not poisonous, that it could be used in a "strike-anywhere" match, and that the match heads were not explosive. They patented a safety match composition in 1898 based on phosphorus sesquisulfide and potassium chlorate.

1906 [International Agreement to ban white phosphorus in matches]
An agreement, the Berne Convention, was reached at Bern, Switzerland, in September 1906, which banned the use of white phosphorus in matches. This required each country to pass laws prohibiting the use of white phosphorus in matches. Great Britain passed a law in 1908 prohibiting its use in matches after 31 December 1910.

The United States did not pass a law to ban the manufacture and sale of white phosphorus matches, but instead Congress passed a law placing a prohibitively high tax on them in 1913.  This punitive tax on white phosphorus-based matches was sufficiently so high as to render their manufacture financially impractical.

India and Japan banned them in 1919; China followed, banning them in 1925 - five years before the centennial of the invention of white phosphorus matches.


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