Arsenic & Old Lead

Arsenic can be organic, naturally occurring in the ground, or inorganic – meaning chemically induced.    Either one spells T-r-o-u-b-l-e.

You can’t smell it or taste it, but you can ingest it, like Cary Grant as the dithering Mortimer in “Arsenic and Old Lace” was going to do with a swig of elderberry wine before his two biddy aunts sidetracked him in the nick of time.   Depending on the amount, arsenic builds up in the system.    Of course the lonely old men of Brooklyn only looking for a room exited into their next life quicker because the old ladies added strychnine to the mixture.

Now I’m not a chemist, but I have a theory that many of the environmental concerns of today, let’s say in Elkridge, were created in colonial times, particularly with growing tobacco crops.

It is explained thusly:     tobacco plantations were mostly near the Patapsco River for shipping convenience.    Over the years of growing tobacco, our forefathers must have encountered the hornworm.    A pest, the hornworm has it’s own enemies (a type of wasp I think) which, if allowed, will keep the hornworm at bay.

So my contention is that our forefathers were not the smartest of green thumbs nor alchemists and I’ve a suspicion that they probably ran right down to Home Depot and bought lead arsenate to kill the worm instead.    I’m sure their kin were the ones to invent more deadly pesticides and name their company “Monsanto.” But I digress.

So the colonists could have applied a chemical which could travel up a stalk and into the tobacco leaves.   Elkridge folk know by now these leaves were cured and dried and that they were also used as currency. Coins were rarer and tobacco leaves were a popular form of trade with the Brits.    And tobacco smoking snowballed abroad thanks to the original “Marlboro man,” Sir Walter Raleigh.

If this is true, a lot of colonists would have handled some tobacco leaves containing some arsenate of lead.   Not only that, but some might have smoked it in their pipes.   Furthermore, I doubt if anyone washed their hands much before sitting down to dinner, or eating with their fingers.

If this hypothesis is true, among other consequences are that induced arsenic in the ground could have seeped down and run off into the Patapsco, slowly contaminating water supplies.    And if later manufacturing along the Patapsco dumped metals in as well, the contamination problems could have grown more complex and spread with storm water.

I don’t know what the shelf life of lead arsenate is.    I wish I could ask the ol’ biddy aunts and get back to you, but I know arsenic has shown up in some Elkridge wells.

Just a theory.

The good news is that I found a bottle of “Elkridge elderberry” wine… it just needs a lonely old man from Brooklyn, who’s only looking for a room, to taste it first.

elderberry