|154918. Thu Mar 08, 2007 8:17 am
|I’m struggling to find much googlage on this, but it looks a potentially interesting bit of Victoriana ...
I’m currently reading a very fine crime novel by Martin Edwards: “The Arsenic Labyrinth” (Allison & Busby, 2007).
There are, apparently, disused arsenic labyrinths dotted around the country. According to the novel, an AL is a “zig-zagging flue that drew the arsenic off [from an arsenic works] in saleable quantities.”
There’s a not wholly helpful picture here: www.mindat.org/sitegallery.php?u=1136
and here http://www.mindat.org/sitegallery.php?loc=1527
and some slightly arty ones here www.greatatlantic.co.uk/identity/index.html
and a pretty one here
and here’s a World heritage Site arsenic labyrinth:
In Cornwall, they've restored and safety-fied one works for visitors:
<<<For the first time in its history, the world’s best preserved arsenic works, near the Crowns engine houses at Botallack, can be safely entered. It took over a year to consolidate the labyrinths, calciner and related structures that date back from 1907 and were designed to extract highly poisonous arsenic from the tin ore produced at the mine.
The ore was heated to high temperatures in the calciner, and the resultant fumes were drawn through long stone tunnels called labyrinths, on whose walls the arsenic would condense out. The miners who collected the arsenic were protected only by cotton wool in their nostrils and clay covering their exposed skin. The arsenic was then sent to refineries and processed for use in pesticides, dyes, making shot, clearing glass and in medicines. At a time of fluctuating tin prices, the additional income provided by arsenic sales could make the difference between profit and loss for many mines.
As part of the £3.9 million St Just Heritage Area Regeneration Project, former miner and local contractor Roger MacLean and his team spent many months skilfully repairing and repointing the site after it had been decontaminated . They have also reconstructed one complete pair of condensing chambers to help visitors understand the dangerous process that once went on. Cornwall County Council’s Senior Archaeologist Adam Sharpe says, "All of the work that has been done here has been done is absolutely authentic to the original. The reconstruction of the labyrinth chambers is based on photographs taken when the site was being built in 1907." >>>
Arsenic first became popular, even ubiquitous, in the 19th century when (according to Edwards) a terrible plague of boll weevils hit the US cotton crop. Arsenic saved the industry, as a pesticide. It then became the world’s most popular pesticide. It was also used by William Morris to create new dyes and paints. The military used it “to make their bullets more brittle.” It was also a valuable medicine, especially in the treatment of syphilis, and as an aphrodisiac. Taxidermists favoured it, because it killed the bacteria that caused decomposition. An expert character in Edwards’ novel says that there are still stuffed animals which museums have to keep locked away because they are too dangerous to display.
Its popularity as a murder weapon (sometimes referred to as “inheritance powder,” a nickname now given to thallium) declined as the use of the Marsh Test became more widespread. The chemist James Marsh published his method for detecting minute amounts of arsenic in 1836; prior to that the poison had been more or less undetectable, and its victims were often misdiagnosed with cholera.
For the owners of tin-mines, arsenic’s ubiquity was an amazing stroke of luck. Previously, arsenic had been a deadly by-product of ore extraction which they had had to spend money to get rid of. Now, suddenly, their waste problem had become a valuable product in its own right.
Once a month the works would be shut down, and boys would be sent into the depths of the labyrinth to scrape the cooled, crystallised arsenic off the walls.
Does anyone know how arsenic is made nowadays?