Chemicals and chemical elements are all around us and very few are actually harmless to life in sufficient doses. Historically, poisons have claimed the lives of millions, either intentionally or accidentally. Many can be found in your home. In the right dose, exposure to the following will significantly shorten your time here amongst the living. It might be a good idea to make an easy to execute bucket list, or just avoid these chemicals.
We’ve hand-picked ten of the world’s most dangerous chemicals, either human-made or naturally available. Our list is a combination of molecules and elements, just to mix it up. Some can be found in your own home, others you’ll hopefully never “meet”, unless of course, your occupation requires you to.
So without further ado, and in no particular order, here is our list of ten of the world’s most dangerous chemicals.
1. Hydrogen peroxide
Good old fashioned bleach can usually be found in your home at concentrations of around 3 to 6 percent. Did you know it is also a rocket propellant? This household chemical is extremely volatile and at 70 percent concentrations, lab grade, the slightest nudge can trigger an explosion. A concentrated peroxide explosive was used in the attacks in London, which killed 52 innocents in 2005.
Extracted and purified from the foxglove plant, Digoxin is used to treat heart conditions. In proper quantities, it greatly improves the heart’s efficiency. The so-called “Angel of Death”, Charles Cullen, used Digoxin at pharmaceutical grade to kill over 40 of his patients.
Tobacco is a member of the nightshade family of plants, a name that most will immediately recognize. The dried and shredded leaves tend to make up between 0.6 and 3 percent of a cigarette’s total mass. In its liquid form nicotine can be absorbed through the skin, enter the bloodstream and cause havoc. Exposure to around 30-60 mg can cause death within hours. For those trying to quit, be sure not to overdose on patches while continuing to smoke at the same time.
Lead had been used for millennia in everything from paint to pipes and is very common in buildings and services. However, humanity finally noticed that it is highly toxic. It’s not as toxic as other chemicals on this list, but its prevalence in our modern world makes it a worthy entry here. In both the UK and USA, lead has very strict Health and Safety Legislation.
Good ol’ Pb is lethal in high doses with symptoms including vomiting, weakness, seizures, coma and death. Long term exposure is the most common way of getting lead poisoning, however. It is particularly dangerous for pregnant women and young children as it stunts neural development and causes irreversible damage. Lead exposure will, in effect, directly impair your unborn or young child’s mental development and IQ.
This chemical is commonly used as a pesticide for rodents and birds. As small quantities are needed for a lethal dose, concealment is easy for the would-be murderer. It has been rumored that this chemical has killed many historical figures from Alexander the Great to Robert Johnson. Strychnine is sourced from the seeds of the Strychnos nux-vomica tree.
6. Sodium cyanide
Well if it contains cyanide it can’t be a good thing. It is commonly used as an industrial reactant. Accidental, or insidious, exposure to this chemical leads to death within seconds. Cyanide bonds to cytochrome c oxidase in your mitochondria, effectively disabling the cell. Poisoning from Cyanide tends to lead to the characteristic smell of almonds on the deceased, just so you know. Lethal doses are around 200–300 mg.
Ever heard the phrase “mad as a hatter”? Apparently, it comes from the fact that Mercury was commonly used in the hat making process. This long-term exposure led hatters to the inevitable results of Mercury poisoning – dementia. Other early professions plagued by this unfortunate occupational hazard where early dentists.
Mercury, being a liquid at room temperature, can evaporate easily and be inhaled. But more worryingly, it can be absorbed directly through the skin. Because of its volatility, this seemingly innocuous metal also tends to build up in the food chain, especially seafood.
Emperor Qin Shi Huang of ancient China discovered just how dangerous this chemical element is. He would often take pills containing Mercury in an attempt to give him eternal life – how ironic, you might say.
Ever seen the film Apocalypto? Then you’ll have seen, on the big screen, the lethality of this chemical. It is the most poisonous non-peptide chemical known to man. It is usually extracted from poison frog skin excretions. Tribes use the chemical for poison darts. Interestingly the frogs can’t manufacture it directly. It’s a bi-product from their digestion of the Melyrid beetles that they eat.
With a long history of poisoning, especially for the Victorians, Arsenic is a “classic” of death dealing. Unbelievably, Arsenic was used in wallpapers and paints with reckless abandon during the Victorian period. The resulting accidental poisoning ultimately sent King George III of Great Britain insane. It is rumored to have also led to the death of Napolean Bonaparte, but this is controversial.
Like lead, Arsenic poisoning can occur from gradual small but frequent exposure, leading to a variety of symptoms. High doses are of course a different story. Ingestion will lead to gastric distress – vomiting, diarrhea, bleeding and severe pain. Death will follow soon after – what a nice way to go!
10. Agent Orange
2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin was the highly dangerous contaminate in Agent Orange. Agent Orange was originally developed to defoliate areas of Vietnam during the war. The presence of this nasty contaminate led to severe prenatal deformities in children and severe skin lesions in those exposed.