In 1775 in Germany Carl Wilhelm Scheele invented a new shade of green that became very popular in clothing, paint, wall paper furnishings. toys. He found that mixing in a solution of sodium carbonate at a temperature of around 90 degrees C and slowly adding arsenious oxide it would produce a solution that could be added to copper arsenite which was called Paris Green, which was a yellowish green shade.
In 1814 two men named Russ and Sattler tried to improve on Scheele’s green by adding arsenic and verdigris. The result was a highly toxic pigment called Emerald Green. The bright green shade became a huge favourite with painters, cloth makers, wall paper designers and dyers. It was also used in leather tanning, soaps, lampshades, pharmaceuticals, toys and candles.
Arsenic has been found in the green pigment in an early sample of Morris’s patterned wallpaper, produced some time between 1864 and 1875. Such pigments were suspected even in the mid-nineteenth century of releasing toxic fumes if they become damp.
Factory workers, dyers and artisans who produced arsenic infused items frequently suffered from arsenic poisoning. Painters would get sick from ingesting the paint on their brushes. They used their lips to get a sharp point on a paintbrush.
The French painter Cezanne had an affinity for using Paris Green and it could be no coincidence that he suffered from severe diabetes.
In 1861 a young 19 year old artificial flower maker, died of”accidental” poisoning. The formerly healthy, good looking young woman worked in central London, along with a hundred other employees. She “fluffed” artificial leaves, dusting them with an attractive green powder that she inhaled with every breath and ate off her hands at each meal. The brilliant hue of the green pigment which was also used to colour dresses and hair ornaments was known as white arsenic.
It was suspected that Napoleon’s death could have been caused by exposure to poison through the toxic fumes given off by wallpaper at Longwood, his prison home. The wallpaper from his bathroom and the green flock paper with a star pattern in his drawing room have been tested and proven to be Scheele’s Green.
It is thought that the heat and dampness from his frequent lengthy hot baths in his deep copper bathtub would have release arsenic fumes.
19th century journals reported cases of children wasting away in bright green rooms, of ladies in green dresses swooning and newspaper printers being overcome by arsenic vapors. There is one example of an acute poisoning of children attending a Christmas party where dyed candles were burned.
A lot of young girls would also be subjected to it with their needlework, as silks, cottons etc were treated with it. Most people when they sew have the habit of putting the end of the thread in their mouth to make it easier for the thread to go through the needle.
After many occurrences of people dying horrible deaths or simply just dropping dead, people started to work out the green connection and they realize how deadly the continual wearing of clothing and use of items covered with arsenic could be.
Thankfully by 1870 arsenic was replaced with new synthetic green dyes that were safe. Next time you thread your needle with green thread say little prayer !