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What Colour Is Your Bedroom Wallpaper?

Earlier this month (August 3rd 2019) the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) moved to remove implicated batches of own brand bottled water, supplied by Co. Monaghan company ‘Celtic Pure’, which were on sale and display, in stores and food outlets nationally. Arsenic (chemical symbol As), a heavy metal, had been detected at levels above the prescribed legal limit in several branded ‘still’ and ‘sparkling’ bottled waters.

A more serious Arsenic contamination was discovered during the late 18th and early 19th century, in the form of ‘Paris Green’; also known as ‘Schloss Green’; ‘Scheele’s Green’ ; ‘Schweinfurt Green’; ‘Emerald Green‘; ‘Patent Green’, and ‘New Green’; latter compound invented in 1775 by pharmacist Carl Wilhelm Scheele, himself the initial true discoverer of the gas ‘oxygen’.

The long list of different names associated with this same compound over future years would suggests that manufacturers were anxious to continue selling their product. By ignoring known associated health issues, they simply changed its name in an effort to disguise and mislead consumers.

This product was further improved, in 1814, by chemists working at the Wilhelm Dye and White Lead Company of Schweinfurt, in the Lower Franconia region of Bavaria in Germany.

‘Paris Green’, came into use as a colourant for many household products, e.g. wallpapers and paper hangings; in paints; wax candles; artificial flowers; gloves; sweets; confectionery, particularly cake decorations; medicine; glass; dye in clothing; as a colourant in the painting of children’s toys and the product was ground down more finely, for inclusion in watercolour paints and inks.

Women were passionate about this yellowish-green pigment, same being much sought for being brighter and longer-lasting than other green colours then available in the market place. It became a particular hit amongst the then existing social elite; from the French Emperor Napoleon III’s wife, (the Empress Eugénie de Montijo), to Queen Victoria’s wallpaper decorating bedrooms Buckingham Palace.

On June 4th 1849, Dr. H. Letheby, M.B., Ph.D., a renowned chemist working at a London Hospital, confirmed that the cause of death for a female child was arsenic poisoning. The press of the time were quick to publicize that the arsenic paint used in wallpapers in that family’s home, had killed the child. Dr. Letheby further claimed that to kill any child, it did not need to eat this wallpaper paint, nor even to sleep in a room so decorated. Just a few hours of exposure breathing the dust of such wallpaper; especially flocked wallpaper, was all that was needed to bring about the death of an infant.

A French medical hygienist, known for his work in the field of occupational health and safety, one Maxime Vernois observed ten years later in 1859 that many male workers working with Scheele’s Green dye were found to have ulcerations on their green dyed hands, yellow nails, and crater-like scars on their legs. Their genital area also displayed painful lesions stretching along their inner thighs. Female cloth shapers were found to have poor appetites and suffered constant headaches, while displaying an anaemic skin pallor. His ongoing studies ended in the full knowledge that less than 1/8th of a teaspoon of arsenic, could signify a fatal dose, and this same group of employees were coming into contact with gallons of the dye substance.

Paris Green was also to become a popular colour expended by English romantic painter, printmaker and watercolour artist William Turner, and Impressionist artists like Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, together with Post-Impressionist painters such as Paul Gauguin, Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Cézanne.

At the turn of the 20th century this product was further blended and used as an insecticide by fruit and tobacco producers. During 1944 and 1945 in order to control malaria it was scattered by flying crop sprayers in Italy, Sardinia and Corsica, and further used as a rodent poison in Paris underground sewers.

When Maxime Vernois reported his concluded findings, Sweden, Germany and eventually France recognized the problem and banned the product. England, now its largest consumer and producer, however did not.

It was not until the 1960’s, despite all known and long proven scientific evidence on the highly toxic nature of this product, that the manufacture of emerald green paint was finally banned.

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