Teaching Tuesdays: Pondering poisons

When I heard last week that Yasser Arafat’s body was being exhumed to test whether he was poisoned, the timing was interesting. My premed son had just been home for the weekend and something he said reminded me of a mercury poisoning case I knew he would find interesting.
So today we talk about poisoning! It’s an aggregation because I have no personal knowledge on the topic, but we’ll hit some high-profile cases plus some weird science.

Politics entirely aside, here’s more on the Arafat case, including what exactly exhumation entails:

What we could learn from Yasser Arafat’s exhumation [The Conversation]
“Polonium is notoriously difficult to detect and has a relatively short half-life of 138 days, which means that after eight years (Arafat died in November 2004), the search for it in human tissue will involve some complex chemistry. But apart from the analytical problems and forensic issues of sampling, the exhumation itself will be problematic – largely because of the likely state of Arafat’s remains.”

This is the mercury case and story I remembered. So much was learned from this tragic death, including that the gloves that were meant to protect her actual were a conductor:

Scientist’s Death Helped Increase Knowledge of Mercury Poisoning [Los Angeles Times]
“It was just a drop of liquid, just a tiny glistening drop. It glided over her glove like a jewel.”

Because I used to cover The Dow Chemical Co. and by extension its byproducts, I’m interested in dioxin and was fascinated when former Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko was diagnosed with dioxin poisoning. He’s alive, but still harboring it in his blood, and the case opened a discussion about testing techniques.

Viktor Yushchenko still suffers from dioxin in his body [Pravda]
“Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko said that he was still experiencing discomfort because of dioxin poisoning.”

The Dioxin Poisoning Of Victor Yushchenko: Need For Methods In Routine Analysis Of Metabolites Of The Poison TCDD [Medical News Today]

“The study shows seventeen different types of dioxin were analyzed in Mr Yushchenko. Only TCDD levels were higher than those in the general population. This indicates a severe intoxication of pure TCDD.”

On a slightly different note, we have radiation poisoning, thoughtfully discovered and studied by some of our best-known scientists.

What Is Radiation Poisoning? [Wise Geek]
“Nikolai Tesla, a famous inventor and scientist, described burns he received after exposing his hands to early X-ray technology. Famed female scientist Marie Curie devoted her life to understanding radiation and its uses, and died of cancer believed to be caused by consistent exposure to radiation.”

Need some poison recipes? Here’s some slightly redacted info, but surely a sharp chemist can fill in the details. (Not an endorsement, don’t try potassium cyanide at home.)

Manual for poisons and chemical gases published on Hamas website [Free Republic]
“A manual published on the official Hamas website, titled ‘The Mujahadeen Poisons Handbook,’ has been discovered, which is a manual for preparing poisonous materials to use in a terrorist attack. … The 23-page manual, written by Abdel-Aziz in 1996, details for terrorists how to prepare various homemade poisons, chemical poisons, poisonous gases and other deadly materials for use in terrorist attacks against Israelis, Westerners, and anyone else who stands in the way of an Islamic Jihad.”

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