Near Irvinebank in far north Queensland, Australia is a creek known as
A hidden killer mineral lurks in the rocks under the creek.
To look you would never know!
The creek tends to be fenced off because in the dry season cattle
that drink from the pools can die.
How can rocks in a creek kill cattle?
It has a lot to do with the weather.
Due to the extreme weather variations in the area (a short very wet season
and a very dry season), a killer mineral weathers quickly and oxidises
into the deadly white powder of arsenic trioxide
Evaporation concentrates the poison in the water and around the edges of
the pools where it looks like salt to the cattle.
Cattle like licking salt and in this hot dry area or Australia cattle
farmers (graziers) even put out blocks of salt for the cattle to lick.
The cattle (and humans as well) are poisoned by a mineral known as
Arsenopyrite FeAsS - which is 46% Arsenic by weight.
Only about 5% of arsenic consumption is of the metallic element. Most of
this is used to alloy (mix) arsenic with lead, copper, or other metals for
specific uses. As a metalloid, arsenic is a semiconductor, like silicon.
This means it conducts some electricity like a metal, but not all the
electricity a true conductor like copper would conduct. Consequently,
about 1/10 % of arsenic is consumed in the manufacture of gallium arsenide
semiconductors for use in electronics. Some arsenic is also used in
glass-making. Most arsenic is in the form of chromated copper arsenate
(CCA), a chemical used as a wood preservative for telephone poles, fence
posts, pilings, and foundation timbers. The CCA significantly reduces rot
and eliminates wood destruction by termites, ants and other insects.
However, the use of CCA is being phased and a major decrease in the
arsenic market is expected as a result. Formerly the most important use of
arsenic compounds, was as an insecticide sprayed in fields and orchards.
This use has entirely disappeared in most countries, due to the poisonous
nature of arsenic compounds. Arsenic contamination is a problem in some
well-water and may be associated with mine drainage.
While metallic arsenic can pass through your body unharmed if it oxidises
to arsenic trioxide it be comes a deadly poison.
In early-nineteenth-century England, a good way to get rid of your husband
was arsenic. A medical examiner usually couldn’t tell whether the poison
was involved, because the symptoms—diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain—are
much like those of other disorders. Nor could he necessarily place you at
the murder scene. The dying typically took hours. Also, you could
administer the poison gradually, a little bit every day. In the
mid-century, arsenic poisoning was commonly the resort of women. (In 1851,
the House of Lords tried to pass a law forbidding women to buy arsenic.)
But unpleasant husbands were not the only people you might want to
eliminate. During this period of feverish social mobility, a young person
might be waiting impatiently for an inheritance, and there was Uncle Ted,
sitting on all that money and meanwhile bossing you around, toying with
your hopes. In such cases, male poisoners presumably outnumbered females.
Through much of the nineteenth century, a third of all criminal cases of
poisoning involved arsenic. One reason for its popularity was simply its
availability. All you had to do was go into a chemist’s shop and say that
you needed to kill rats. A child could practically obtain arsenic. The
going price for half an ounce was tuppence.
When the poisoning becomes acute, symptoms may include diarrhea, vomiting,
vomiting blood, blood in the urine, cramping muscles, hair loss, stomach
pain, and more convulsions. The organs of the body that are usually
affected by arsenic poisoning are the lungs, skin, kidneys, and liver.
Beyond treatment, there was another, more fundamental mystery: doctors
usually didn’t know whether the condition they were dealing with was
arsenic poisoning. The tests for the presence of arsenic sound almost
comical. A favorite was to throw a sample of the victim’s stomach contents
into the fireplace. If, as it burned, it smelled like garlic, the corpse
was thought to contain arsenic.
The first person to come up with a reliable chemical test for arsenic
poisoning was an obscure but determined chemist named James Marsh. His
procedure, involved feeding sulfuric acid and zinc through an apparatus
that combined tubes, rods, stopcocks, nozzles, and a great deal more.
Marsh presented his invention in 1836, and won a big prize for it. (With
modifications, it was used for a hundred and fifty years.)
Arsenic is now traceable in the body - use it and you will be caught!
Vivid green wallpaper was the height of fashion for Victorian England. But
the wallpaper was deadly as it contained arsenic which oxidised out in the
damp conditions and over time poisoned the occupants of the room.
The origins of arsenic in wallpaper can be traced back to 1778 when the
Swedish chemist Carl Scheele first used copper arsenite to create a vivid
green pigment. The richness of the colour and its superb pigmentation
properties made Scheele’s Green (as it came to be known) highly sought
after by paint manufacturers and interior decorators.
Brilliantly vivid shades of green were particularly popular among artists
and designers of the Pre-Raphaelite and Aesthetic movements (Christopher
Dresser, Walter Crane, and E W Godwin among them) and, in turn, green
became a very fashionable colour in which to decorate the home or to dress
Although not all commercially available green paints contained arsenic,
many did, including Emerald Green, Paris Green and Schweinfurt Green, as
well as the original Scheele’s Green. Before the craze for these colours
had even reached Britain, the dangers associated with arsenical paints had
been acknowledged in Europe, but these findings were largely ignored by
Victorians ate vegetables sprayed with arsenic insecticides and meat from
animals dipped in arsenic as a fly deterrent. Panic broke out across the
nation in 1879, when it was discovered that lickable postage stamps were
also coloured with arsenical dyes, but this was nothing compared to the
hysteria that erupted at the beginning of the 20th century with the
arrival of a whole new scandal: arsenic in beer!
This silicate mineral grows thin fibers crystals that can easily break off
and form dust particles. Despite its usefulness in insulation, fire
resistance, and sound absorption, the mineral dust is deadly if inhaled.
The fibers can cause lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis.
Chalcanthite - CuSO4·5HO
Chalcanthite is a blue coloured hydrated water-soluble copper sulfate.
Chalcanthite can easily dissolve and recrystallize in a wet environment
which can lead to copper poisoning of an environment. It is toxic to
humans and deadly to invertebrates.
Cinnabar - HgS
A deep red mercury sulphide mineral that provides much of the world's
elemental mercury. Despite the brilliant color and history of use in
trading and as a coloring agent, Cinnabar is deadly. Mercury is toxic to
humans as it accumulates in the body over time.
Galena - PbS
The lead in Galena is toxic to humans if inhaled or ingested from dust
Hutchinsonite - (Tl,Pb)2As5S9
Hutchinsonite is a form of arsenic sulfide with thallium and lead that can
be found in hydrothermal vents. Thallium salts are nearly tasteless and
highly toxic and have been used in rat poison and insecticides. The
thallium inclusion in this arsenic sulfide combines two extremely
dangerous and deadly minerals. Exposure to this mineral can potentially
lead to death.
Orpiment - As2S3
Orpiment is another arsenic sulfide mineral with a stunning
orange-yellow color. The mineral is found naturally in hydrothermal vents,
hot springs, and fumaroles. Strangely, this mineral was once used
medicinally in China despite its toxicity and in alchemy in search for a
way to create gold. The arsenic, especially if it is allowed to oxidize,
will lead to arsenic poisoning if handled incorrectly.
Stibnite - Sb2S3
Stibnite is a toxic antimony sulfide mineral with an orthorhombic
crystal lattice and a source of metalloid antimony. Stibnite paste has
been used for thousands of years for cosmetics to darken eyebrows and
lashes. The mineral was also used to make eating utensils, causing
poisoning from antimony ingestion.
Torbernite - Cu(UO2)2(PO4)2
· 8 - 12 H2O
Torbernite is a dangerous mineral composed of hydrated green copper,
phosphate, and uranyl and is dangerous due to its radioactive nature. The
mineral releases radioactive radon gas naturally and can cause lung cancer
if exposure is long enough. It should never be stored in an enclosed
the collection of Earth Science Australia