Fate of the Miners
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.