Fate of the Min­ers

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Res­i­dents in homes that held arsenic-rid­den prod­ucts were not the only peo­ple im­pacted by the chem­i­cal’s dam­ag­ing prop­er­ties. The health of arsenic min­ers took a con­sid­er­able hit from ex­po­sure as a common side ef­fect of their job.

Dur­ing the 18th cen­tury, one pop­u­lar method for break­ing down rock was to start fires against the rock’s sur­face in or­der to crack the rock. While this process, known as “fire-set­ting,” was suc­cess­ful in break­ing the rock, it also at­om­ized the arsenic and formed a poi­sonous va­por. This led to the slow poi­son­ing of min­ers: work­ers de­vel­oped con­di­tions such as lung dis­ease, arsenic pocks, yellow and green fin­ger­nails and ul­cer­ated le­sions.

Min­ers were not only ex­posed to arsenic while they were work­ing. Run off from the different pro­cesses also con­tam­i­nated soil and wa­ter, dam­ag­ing crops and in­fect­ing the wa­ter sup­ply in min­ing villages. Lo­cal peo­ple suf­fered from al­most con­stant ex­po­sure to the dam­ag­ing ef­fects of the by-product. Yet peo­ple were baf­fled by the ill­ness, at­tribut­ing sick­ness to diph­the­ria or cholera in­stead of arsenic poi­son­ing.

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