OT: Mercury (Was: BBS software for the PDP 11)

Jon Elson elson at pico-systems.com
Tue May 23 20:28:48 CDT 2017

On 05/23/2017 01:57 PM, William Sudbrink via cctalk wrote:
> I have a hard time getting my head around Dr. Wetterhahn's poisoning.  How
> many molecules of the toxin could have possibly entered her body?
> How many molecules does it take to kill or fatally disable a cell?  After it
> does its damage, does the molecule become available again to do
> more damage?  How many cells in her body were actually killed?  Do the
> molecules somehow target the cells required to kill an individual?
> If you killed just the "right" cells, how many cells does it take to kill a
> person?
Yeah, this was sure a wake up call!  I work in a chemistry 
department, so we all have to go through a 1 hour
lab safety seminar every year.  This case has been pretty 
strongly pushed in those.  She did everything everybody 
thought was sufficient to protect her.  Apparently, nobody 
knew that methyl mercury could just soak through whatever 
gloves she was wearing so quickly.  As I understand it, she 
immediately saw the drop of stuff drip on the glove, and she 
completed what she was doing and removed the glove in much 
less than one MINUTE!

Ummm, just a couple cells might be enough to kill you, if 
they stopped your breathing or made you blood pressure go 
haywire (high or low).  But, she felt sick within minutes of 
the exposure and went steadily downhill after that.  So, she 
apparently absorbed a lot of the methyl mercury, which WAS 
known to be super-toxic and readily absorbed.

The Wikipedia article on Dr. Wetterhahn seems to indicate 
this went a lot slower than we were told in the seminar.
Not sure who to trust, there.


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