The dangers of ‘Paris Green’

‘Paris Green’, a highly toxic, emerald green powder was a mixture of over fifty percent arsenic acid combined with lime and copper oxide.

 

By KELLY SULLIVAN

Contributing Writer

RICHMOND – A concoction which was hoped by chemists to become a new pigment for paints upon its invention in 1814, eventually became a convenient means of committing suicide in the 19th century.

‘Paris Green’, a highly toxic, emerald green powder was a mixture of over fifty percent arsenic acid combined with lime and copper oxide. Although it didn’t serve its intended purpose safely, about fifty years after its invention, farmers learned that it was great for serving another need; that of successfully killing off pests in the garden and orchard. Caterpillars, cotton worms, slugs, moths and potato bugs were being quickly eradicated through using the product in a new way.

Suddenly, Paris Green was the country’s first popular insecticide, despite it being more expensive than other such products and was a bit troublesome to use as it had to be mixed with liquid and continuously stirred so that the powder didn’t sink to the bottom. Most farmers had a rusty can of the powder somewhere inside their home or barn.

Whether by accident or intentional, it was discovered that less than one-eighth of a teaspoon of the powder would kill a person if ingested. The resulting death would be an agonizing one and potentially slow. The painful effects could last anywhere from two hours to several days before the physical misery stopped and life ended. 

Severe abdominal pain and vomiting was usually followed by convulsions and heart disruption before organ failure and hemorrhages began.

On March 26, 1890, 61-year-old Albertus Courtland Bromley of Woodville, took his life by ingesting Paris Green. He was discovered that afternoon, by a neighbor, inside the home where he lived alone. 

Not far from where he lay dead was a bottle partially filled with whiskey and, not far from that was an old can of Paris Green. While his cause of death was officially listed as suicide by poison, some thought he might have mistaken the can for his whiskey bottle and accidentally dumped the toxic contents into his mouth.

Eight years earlier, on July 26, William Stillman Hoxsie died around midnight from the effects of a dose of Paris Green. The 49-year-old lived with his 79-year-old uncle Gideon Wilbur Hoxsie on Shannock Hill Road in Richmond and had been occasionally exhibiting signs of insanity. 

Hundreds of despondent people from all over the country ended their lives during the late 19th and early 20th century by ingesting a product which began as a colorful hue and went on to bring about intentional death to insects and humans alike. 

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