Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 59.djvu/116

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

discovered by the commission referred to above in the course of a single week, and no cases have been reported that were not fatal. The State has now been aroused, and has appropriated $100,000 for the Board of Health to use in the suppression of the epidemic. One branch of the Legislature passed a most extraordinary bill, making it a felony to publish, by writing or printing, that Asiatic cholera or bubonic plague exists within the State, unless the fact has been determined by the State Board of Health and entered upon its minutes, but this measure appears now to have been dropped. The San Francisco papers have apparently been only too ready to suppress information in regard to the plague in that city. It appears that the epidemic is slight, but it will naturally be exaggerated by attempts to deny its existence for commercial reasons.

Within the past six months the attention of the English public has been attracted in an unwonted degree to the question of the purity of alcoholic liquors. There occurred last fall, in Lancashire, and especially in Manchester and its vicinity, large numbers of cases of arsenical poisoning, which were finally traced to the consumption of a particular brand of beer. Further investigation revealed the fact that the manufacturers of this beer used in brewing, glucose of a certain make, and that the manufacturers of this glucose had recently begun to use in its preparation a sulfuric acid which was made from pyrites containing, as is almost invariably the case, arsenic. Prior to this time it appears that the sulfuric acid used had been that made from sulfur. It was a long chain of evidence, but was complete, for arsenic was found in the beer, in the glucose, in the acid and in the pyrites, and the amount found in the beer corresponded to that in the ingredients used in its manufacture. The quantity was amply sufficient to occasion all the symptoms of poisoning which were noticed. Several points of interest have been brought out in the voluminous discussions which have followed this incident, or tragedy, as it would be better to call it. In the first place, attention has been called to the difficulty of detecting arsenic in beer and similar liquids by methods which had been commonly used. In this way several analysts were led to pronounce beer to be free from arsenic, which was afterwards shown by other methods to contain notable quantities of the poison. It now appears that the test most to be relied on in such cases is that of Reinsch, which consists essentially in boiling the beer, strongly acidified with pure hydrochloric acid, with clean copper foil, and then subliming the black deposit obtained on the copper, if arsenic is present, in a glass tube. The presence of a sublimate of bright octahedral crystals of arsenious oxid is certain evidence of arsenic in the beer. Difficulties in carrying out the ordinary tests for arsenic with many beers which were examined in large numbers when the public had been aroused to the danger of contaminated beer, led to the discovery of substances added to the beer, which had no legitimate place in brewing, and which bid fair to occasion a much closer supervision of this industry in the future. Attention has been called also to other industries where sulfuric acid is used, and where arsenic which may be present would be carried over into products destined for general consumption. This is especially true in the case of many substances used in pharmacy. It has also been shown that inasmuch as sulfur is always accompanied by small quantities of the rare element selenium, it is not impossible that its compounds, which are very poisonous, may often be present in sufficient quantity to exert a deleterious influence.

This subject has been given a somewhat different turn by the work of Sir Lauder Brunton and Dr. Tunnicliffe upon the injurious constituents of distilled liquors. It is now nearly a score