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Venomous Earth: How Arsenic Caused The World's Worst Mass Poisoning (MacSci) Hardcover – 20 Oct 2004


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan; First Edition, First Printing edition (20 Oct. 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1403944997
  • ISBN-13: 978-1403944993
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 2.5 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,027,419 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

'The unfolding arsenic tragedy in Bangladesh and India compels far greater attention from the international community than it currently receives. Venomous Earth provides a fascinating account both of the historical role of arsenic in our lives, and the horrific impact of what has been called the largest mass poisoning of a population in history.' - Jonathon Porritt, Forum for the Future

'Andrew Meharg weaves stories of alchemy and toxic cosmetics, early health and safety law and the wallpaper of William Morris into an interesting and concisely told narrative...' - New Scientist

'Meharg's coverage of arsenic in wallpapers is fascinating, especially his consideration of the great William Morris, whose obsession with only using plant dyes in later years covered up a past of making heavy use of arsenic greens without ever admitting to it. The book continues to be fascinating as it penetrates the quack medicinal use of arsenic and its gradual convergence with arsenic's infamous poisoning role on an understanding of this deadly element...well worth reading.' - Brian Clegg, www.popularscience.co.uk


'...one of the best books on arsenic one can read, beautifully compiling the science and history of arsenic.' - Ritu Gupta, Down To Earth Magazine

'This is a book that makes the scientific issues underlying a major human tragedy accessible to the average reader.' - The Hindu

'Andrew Meharg is good on the technological and political challenges of testing water for safe levels, when it isn't too clear what a safe level would be. He is terrific on the wider history of arsenic, in alchemy, industry and interior decorating.' - Tim Radford, The Guardian

'There is much here to fascinate a general audience.' - Nature

'Arsenic is an old favorite with the poisoner. It's colorless, odorless-and deadly. But as Meharg, a scientist, makes clear, its worst effects have been unintended. Boreholes sunk in the 1970s to provide clean water in Bangladesh have tapped into groundwater tainted by naturally occurring arsenic. The result, according to the World Health Organization, may be the 'largest mass poisoning in history, with 35 million people at risk from cancers. As casualties of ignorance, they join a long list. Meharg tells the lively - and cautionary - story of arsenic's misuse over the centuries, whether as a component in quack medicines or to produce the vivid green dye favored by the Victorians.' - Newsweek

'Meharg's explanations of the processes by which arsenic ends up concentrating in water-bearing strata are fascinating. He argues for preventive action so arsenic poisoning doesn't become more widespread. His warning is of great importance. It needs to be heeded.' - Chemical and Engineering News

'A highly recommended pick for both health and public library holdings. An important survey.' - Midwest Book Review

'A very erudite, colourful and fascinating account of the history of arsenic and its uses. An excellent buy: it is not only as readable as Simon Singh's The Code Book or Dava Sobel's Longitude, but it will also help raise awareness of an important problem that it is within our gift to do something about.' - Mineralogical Magazine

'This is an excellent treatment of a broad and complex topic, an outstanding piece of scholarship translated into popular science. This book should be read by all environment professionals academics and students. It is an excellent illustration of how to flesh out the bones of scientific fact by integrating it with a wider perception of human existence. Go out and buy it.' - Journal of Environmental Quality

'There is much to praise in a book that will hopefully stimulate greater awareness of this tragedy.' - Chemistry World

'An accessible book on a complex and intractab

About the Author

ANDREW MEHARG is Professor of Biogeochemistry at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland where he studies and teaches on the impact of pollutants on the environment. His particular interest is how arsenic interacts with plants, animals and humans. In this capacity he has advised national and international government and aid bodies. Andrew has published numerous academic papers, book chapters and popular press articles on his research.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Christian Jongeneel on 13 Jan. 2008
Format: Hardcover
Just a you have finished reading how arsenic became a mass murderer in the eighteenth century as a dye for wall paper and a popular cure for all sorts of ailments, and how it finally had been denounced by the year 1900, then Andrew Meharg, a professor of biochemistry at the University of Aberdeen, makes his most perplexing point. People are still dying of arsenic, in droves.

Polluted surface water in Bangladesh has led to the construction of thousands of wells in the country, striking underground water layers replete with arsenic. It is still unclear how many millions of people are affected, imbibing overdoses of arsenic on a daily basis. Bangladesh is not the only nation affected. In the developed world the United States have a poor record of controlling arsenic concentrations in tap water. Mr Meharg advises visitors to Nevada especially to stick with bottled water.

Strictly speaking, 'Venomous earth', is a thoroughly researched history book, covering its subject from the Roman emperor Nero to recent times. But it leaves the reader perplexed at such a poisoning going on on such a baffling scale.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Susan Omar on 11 May 2012
Format: Hardcover
"Venomous Earth" begins with the current day arsenic problems in Bangladesh, where at least 1.3 million water samples have been analysed for dangerous levels of arsenic in an effort funded by the World Bank and UNICEF. Sufferers of chronic arsenic poisoning develop a range of life-threatening symptoms, and the front cover depicts hands speckled with "black rain", a symptom of arsenic poisoning found even in young children in Bangladesh.

Author Andrew Meharg, (Professor of Biogeochemistry at the University of Aberdeen), develops the theme in his descriptions of chemists and alchemists of the past who have identified the properties of arsenic and its compounds. The medicinal use of arsenic might be unfamiliar to the reader, so it is interesting to discover that in 1865 arsenic was used as the first chemotherapy agent to treat leukaemia by the German physician Lissauer. Today, much leukaemia research is focused on arsenic-based drugs including arsenic trioxide.

A memorable chapter describes how arsenic became known as the "verdant assassin" because arsenic green (copper aceto-arsenite) was widely used in England and Scotland as a pigment in wallpaper. It was a cheap and vibrant pigment, but released a deadly organic gas, trimethyl arsine. Astonishingly, the public was slow to realise the dangers of the "verdant assassin", and, sadly, deaths among children in nurseries hung with poisonous wallpaper were reported right into the 1930s.

Many candles, nicknamed corpse candles, were made with arsenic, which was added as a bleach and a hardener, leading to people being poisoned by reading books in bed by candlelight. Ball gowns, too, were a hazard as they were laden with loosely applied arsenic dye. Arsenic was even used in the 19th century as a food colouring in confectionary. An interesting book to dip into.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Lord on 12 Sept. 2012
Format: Hardcover
This book was disappointing as I needed to provide case study detail on water pollution in Bangladesh. The book didn't provide the level of detail expected. The detail was interesting but was much more related to past mining in the UK than current mining around the world.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 1 review
Notorious poisons through the ages 13 Oct. 2013
By Susan Omar - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Arsenic is a notorious poison and it may be threatening over one hundred million people who drink arsenic-contaminated water from tens of millions of wells. This astonishing fact forms the opening theme of Meharb’s study of the history and science of mass poisoning by arsenic.

“Venomous Earth” begins with the current day arsenic problems in Bangladesh, where at least 1.3 million water samples have been analysed for dangerous levels of arsenic in an effort funded by the World Bank and UNICEF. Sufferers of chronic arsenic poisoning develop a range of life-threatening symptoms, and the front cover depicts hands speckled with “black rain”, a symptom of arsenic poisoning found even in young children in Bangladesh.

Author Andrew Meharg, (Professor of Biogeochemistry at the University of Aberdeen), develops the theme in his descriptions of chemists and alchemists of the past who have identified the properties of arsenic and its compounds. The medicinal use of arsenic might be unfamiliar to the reader, so it is interesting to discover that in 1865 arsenic was used as the first chemotherapy agent to treat leukaemia by the German physician Lissauer. Today, much leukaemia research is focused on arsenic-based drugs including arsenic trioxide.

A memorable chapter describes how arsenic became known as the “verdant assassin” because arsenic green (copper aceto-arsenite) was widely used in England and Scotland as a pigment in wallpaper. It was a cheap and vibrant pigment, but released a deadly organic gas, trimethyl arsine. Astonishingly, the public was slow to realise the dangers of the “verdant assassin”, and, sadly, deaths among children in nurseries hung with poisonous wallpaper were reported right into the 1930s.

Many candles, nicknamed corpse candles, were made with arsenic, which was added as a bleach and a hardener, leading to people being poisoned by reading books in bed by candlelight. Ball gowns, too, were a hazard as they were laden with loosely applied arsenic dye. Arsenic was even used in the 19th century as a food colouring in confectionary.

Meharg’s book is full of fascinating information, but I feel that it would be improved by the use of better illustrations. For example, it is very hard to see rivers on the map entitled “The Rivers of the Ganges Plain” (p26), and both the Ganges and Brahaputra rivers go right off the map only to reappear further up, but unnamed. I found that I was reaching for an atlas because the map does not link to features mentioned in the text and fails to label Tibet’s Crystal Mountain; West Bengal; Himalayan Nepal; the foothills of Assam; or the Bengal Basin.

The information in the book is chunked into different topics, only some of which link to the previous ones, so it’s not always easy to know where a chapter will lead. I feel that the reader might be put off by the first couple of chapters, which are more factual than narrative and not as fascinating as the middle section of the book.

The important message conveyed by the book is that one in every sixty people on the planet remains in danger of being poisoned by arsenic. This is mostly because they live in an area where drinking water is contaminated with arsenic at levels of 59ppb or more, which will poison them. Meharg concludes with a positive argument for preventive action so arsenic poisoning doesn't become more widespread.

With many fascinating themes, I would recommend this book as a good source of information for a general readership.

Reviewer: Susan Omar
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