A Brief History of Occupational, Industrial, and Environmental Toxicology
here have been many mass exposures to natural and man-made toxins throughout history. A few important human exposures have been primarily environmental. Many more have been occupational or industrial in origin, which have subsequently resulted in environmental contamination. They have resulted in illness and deathfor a great many people. Often, they begin as industrial accidents and conclude with mass public injury. The Bhopal, India, episode in 1984 is the best example. In other episodes, the environment poisons the worker. Uranium tunnel mine workers have excess lung cancer from radon exposure. Most episodes follow some type of industrial accident. More than 20 such episodes are reported in the UnitedStates every year. The frequency of these episodes has been increasing with the industrialization of the world. Many disasters involving hazardous substances are never recorded, especially in less developed countries. The public has become more aware of the environment and its pollutants since the publication of the book Silent Spring in 1962.6 Many organizations formed before and since thatpublication are dedicated to limiting environmental contamination, and public opinion has certainly changed over the last several decades. The following is a partial listing of well-known environmental and industrial toxicologic episodes. 79 AD Pompeii: Volcanic gas from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius caused thousands of deaths. Heat, particulates, and gases, especially oxides of nitrogen and sulfur,played a role in these deaths. It is estimated that more than 2000 died. 994 AD Aquitania, France: Ergot alkaloids are thought to have been responsible for the deaths of 40,000. 2
MICHAEL I. GREENBERG SCOTT D. PHILLIPS
1692 Salem, Massachusetts: Ergot alkaloids were believed to be the cause of bizarre behavior.5 1700 Italy: Cotton dust caused a significant outbreak of respiratory complaints(byssinosis) during the processing of cotton, flax, and soft hemp. 1767 Devonshire, England: Lead-contaminated cider caused colic; later, gout was associated with this same episode.48 1700s England: Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons caused excess scrotal cancer in men who were exposed as chimney sweeps. 1800s New Jersey: Mercurous nitrate used in the felting process of the hatting industry led tomercurialism.49 1800s Europe: Yellow phosphorus used in the manufacture of matches led to “phossy jaw.”19 1828 France: Bread and wine contaminated with arsenious acid caused an estimated 40,000 cases of polyneuropathy.29 1846 Canada: Lead from soldered cans contaminated foodstuffs in the Franklin expedition. 1900s Staffordshire, England: Arsenic-contaminated sugar was used in beer manufacturing.32 1900sUnited States and India: β-Naphthylamine used in the dye industry resulted in an increase of bladder cancers. 1910 Manchester, England: Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons were associated with scrotal cancer: 24 in active mulespinners (cotton textile factory workers), 5 in former mulespinners, 1 in a chimney sweep, and 22 in tar and paraffin workers. Shale oil was used to lubricate the spinningcotton spindles.15,28
1915 to 1918 Ypres, Belgium: Chlorine, phosphorus, and mustard gases resulted in 100,000 dead. Overall, there were 1.2 million deaths from chemical warfare in World War I. 1920s to 1990s Worldwide: Asbestos exposure resulted in a marked increase in asbestos-related disease and cancer.36 1928 Cleveland, Ohio, Cleveland Clinic: Nitrocellulose-containing x-ray film burned.Cyanide, nitrogen dioxide, and carbon monoxide were generated during pyrolysis. This resulted in 97 deaths immediately and 26 additional deaths during the next month. 1930 United States, Europe, and South Africa: Triorthocresylphosphate resulted in ginger jake paralysis, a neurotoxic disease affecting tens of thousands of people.35 1930 Meuse Valley, Belgium: Smog from a thermal inversion resulted in...