Men of science who traversed Styria have long reported the fact that there were people in Styria who consumed arsenic. However, this statement was denied by others, who affirmed that the white mineral they ate was nothing but chalk ; and, as there were some quack doctors among the individuals, charged of that usage, it was asserted, that in making people believe that they took ratsbane they would give themselves the appearance of being protected from all diseases by it, in order to favor the sale of their drugs. Rumors and statements with respect to this subject had to remain without significance as long as. chemical analysis had not given proof of the presence of that poison in the waste of the body. Prompted by the importance of this subject, the royal medical counsel, Dr. Von Vest, occasioned the issrre of a circular to the physicians of Styria, requesting them to communicate their experiences with regard thereto. Seventeen reports were obtained, from which the following is au extract: The principal seat ot the arsenic eatersaccording to these is the northern and northwestern part, the southern part, however, is free from them. The district of Hartberg in the former counts not less than forty individuals who indulge in that habit. From the various sorts of arsenic, the white arsenic, or ratsbane, is mostly taken, less so the commercial yellow, and still less the natural red arsenic, or orpiment. The arsenic eaters begin with the dose of the size of a millet, and increase this quantity gradually to the dose of the size of a pea, the weight of these quantities being 0'23, 0'56, and 0'62 grains avoirdupois, respectively. These doses are either taken daily, or every other day, or only once or twice a week. In the district of Hartberg the custom prevails to suspend this unwise usage at the time of the new moon, to commence at the time when she is on her increase with the relative smallest dose, and to increase with it to the time of the full moon. From this period the quan tity is diminished, but aloes is taken are increased doses till strong diarrhea is produced. ftrectly after the administering of arsenic, most people abstain from drinking, and with regard to aliment, some prefer pastry to meat, while others abstain from the taking of fat. However, the majority will take all kinds of food, indulging also considerably in the use of alcoholic beverages. Older persons who have been accustomed to that habit from their boyhood feel a sensation of warmth in the stomach shortly after taking the poison, complaining only of dizziness in the head after excessive use. The ratsbane eaters belong mostly to the lower classes, wood cleavers, stable grooms, charcoal burners, and wood warts. They fall into that habit at the early age of fifteen, and continue it until the ages of seventy and seventy-six. Although the female sex is not averse to it, the majority belongs to the male sex. They are generally strong and healthy persons, courageous, pugnacious, and of strong sexual dispositions. The reason of this habit is very probably atiributable to the fact of its apparent favorable action upon horses. If requested to explain the reason of their indulging in it, they will say that it is to make them strong and healthy. The taking of arsenic is rarely practiced by sickly persons. Although the indestructible health of the mountaineer forms in the beginning a kind of an armor against the arsenic (the slowly-increased doses preparing the body for the assimilation of larger doses), most arsenic eaters end with an inevitable infirmity of the body. Dr. Kn_pe, at Oberzeiring, sent to Professor Schaefer in Graz, who was intrusted w_th the chemical examinations, the urine of an individual who consumed arsenic for thirty years. He felt in the beginnbg great exhaustion, which regularly disappeared after a new dose, but never experienced headache, or burning in the throat or stomach. This person was observed from February 21, 1860. On that day he took a took a very small piece of arsenic ; on the day after, a piece of 0'56 grains was swallowed by him in the presence of Dr. Knappe. On February 23, he took as much as 0'62 grains. During this time he showed great appetite, indulged considerably in spirituous liquors, and, took leave perfectly well, on February 24. He stated that he used to take the respective quantities twice or thrice a week. With regard to the urine, chemical analysis did not fail to detect the presence of the poison with the utmost certainty, still, the traces found were not equivalent to the quantities swallowed. A second portion of urine furnished also but traces of arsenill.te of magnesia and ammonia. However, if it is considered that arsenic is not soluble,very the larger part leaving the body through other channels, the facts stated are easy explainable. To the involuntary arsenic eaters in Styria belong the horses. The quantities given to them vary from five to one hundred grains. It is stated that after long-continued use, they get fat and courageous, but that they die shortly after suspending it. With regard to the mingling of arsenic with the food of cattle and other domestic animals, the reports spoken of contain also remarks which are of interest, as they show how rapidly the organism adapts itself to so violent a poison, that the expulsion through the kidneys is only a small and long-enduring one, that the accumulation in the blood is. considerable, and that the larger part is conveyed away through the intestinal p assages. The Sewage Question. The desirability and the feasibility of applying town sewage to the purpose of fertilizing the soil are every day becoming more patent. We ledrh from the Iriil F'arme'l' that the resent attempt to utilize the Sewage of the town of Ban- bury. in lIngl»ad-5 be prav@t4 iwm. eYer, point IJf ?tewj most successful. This town contains 11,000 inhabitants, and its sewage was formerly discharged directly into the river Cher- well, which it polluted to such an extent at to ultimately create a perfect furore against the nuisance. Law proceedings having been instituted by persons whose health and comfort had been affected by this sewage nuisance, the Lord Chancellor ordered an inj unction to be issued, restraining the town authorities ' from polluting the rivet. Subsequently to the law proceedings the local Board of Health rented a farm of 137 acres, situated about one mile from the town, and over which there is daily poured about three hundred thousand gallons of the town sewage. Before applying the sewage it is allowed to settle in tanks, and the solid matter which gravitates to the bottom is mixad with the sweepings of the street and the ashes and other solid refuse of the town, and the compound is sold to canal boatmen, by whom it is disposed to the farmers of the locality. The rent of the Banbury sewage farm is £616 10s. per annum, and last year the sales of its produce amounted to more than £1,300, so that after paying all the expenses of management there was a good profit made on the sewage.
This article was originally published with the title "The Arsenic Eaters of Styria" in Scientific American 21, 14, 215 (October 1869)