What We Used to Do for Color

The earliest in paints, wall papers, and even food being hazardous should come as no surprise. Though now we’re moving away from these dangers, substances that we now see as something not to touch were once commonplace.

This post is not meant to cause mass hysteria.

Chromium, cadmium, mercury, lead, cyanide, and arsenic salts were used from home decorations to cosmetics. Most of these aren’t even found in homes anymore.

While not considered toxic on its own, some of its compounds are. Chromium was used as a corrosion inhibitor and for its varying colours. Up until the 1980s, Chromium was responsible for most reds, yellows, oranges, and greens. In the eighties, OSHA ruled that Chromium and Lead should be removed from paints specifically, but Chromium is still found in some corrosion resistant primers and metals.

This extremely toxic yellow pigment is commonly found in industrial work places where ore is smelted or refined. Used extensively in electroplating, a process using electrical current to coat an electrically conductive object with a relatively thin layer of metal, but the nature of electroplating is not conducive to overexposures. Several deaths have occured in employment history by welders unsuspectingly welding Cadmium-based alloys. Found in industrial paints, Cadmium is only really seen as a danger when sprayed, scraped, or blasted.

This compound, also called ‘quicksilver,’ was once used as a wood preservative. Found in some thermometers now, Mercury has been avoided since learning of its poisonous nature in humans. It is commonly used in dentistry, for the preparation of fillings; in laboratories and hospitals, as a reagent and fixative; and in medical instruments, electrical equipment, thermometers, barometers, pharmaceuticals, and some fluorescent light bulbs. It is also used in the chloralkali industry, the manufacture of glassware and jewelry, and the recovery of gold and silver. Mercury is a substance that can be used without its toxicity affecting us, but it must be handled carefully. There are very specific ways to clean up a Mercury spill, and it should not be touched by bare hands. Work places that use Mercury more than likely have a Mercury cleaning kit. In the home, it’s not so much a worry anymore, unless you have a Mercury-based thermometer, and the quantities of Mercury inside that thermometer are very low. Still, it should be respected. Most importantly, it must never be dumped down the sink and must be disposed of as a hazardous waste product. Most Mercury can actually be recycled.

Lead has been used by humans for at least 700 years because of its easy-to-work-with nature. It was used as a pigment in paints for whites, yellow, and reds. Just as lead carries a history of utilisation, it carries its history of toxicity, which was recognised even then. Again, by the mid-1980s, many actions were taken to do away with lead-based paints, considering their dangers, especially with children. Lead paint was a particular draw for curious children because of its almost sweet taste, and because of that sweetness, some early candy makers actually used lead as a sweetener, just as the Romans did with their wine. Ingesting large quanities meant a number of dangers, especially in the nervous system. It has also been known to cause certain blood and brain disorders. Schizophrenia has surfaced because of lead poisoning. It has been strongly suggested that any lead paint in the house be removed by scraping. Typically, lead paint is only found in older houses, and may have already been removed.

The convenient quick-death pill of every early spy movie was said to contain Cyanide. Used very early on in home paints and wallpapers for a deep Prussian Blue, Cyanide only saw a brief stay in the home. Most commonly Cyanide is a hazard through inhalation, and only in rare cases can it be absorbed through the skin.

Used early on as green pigment, Arsenic Green made its debut in the Victorian Era in wallpapers. Now, it is widely used as rat poisoning. It was even commonly used as an insectiside until many cases of brain damage were reported by those spraying the posion, and generally, anything used as a poison should never be brought home. Back in the Victorian Era, Arsenic was often taken in a liquid concoction involving vinegar to improve a woman’s complexion. As strange as it may seem, many illnesses and deaths were attributed to wallpaper. What was truly happening was a fungus that grew within the wallpaper’s paste, turning the arsenic into a gas.

With today’s chemical advances, and many adaptations, colour peacefully coexists with those who desire it in many homes around the world.

So, breathe easy.

Author: ruecian