Understanding Fast Poisons
Toxic chemicals are all around us. Some of the fastest acting toxic chemicals, though not necessarily deadly, are literally in our houses and backyards. Castor bean, daffodil and jonquil, lily-of-the-valley, foxglove, yew, holly and other cultivated plants can be found in many gardens. Poison ivy and pokeweed can be found along roadsides, fencelines, and in fields. Dumbcane, Euphorbia (crown of thorns, pointsettia), jade, wandering Jew and other plants also can be
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Typically it takes fewer than seven drops of a supertoxic chemical to be lethal to adults. It is far less for children, which is one reason there are so many mushroom and plant poinonings of children and infants each year, although most are not fatal. Supertoxic chemicals often target the nervous system; botulism toxin, stingray venom, and black widow spider venom are in this category. Rattlesnake venom attacks the blood and nervous system; batrachotoxin of the South American poison dart frog targets the cardiovascular system. A native's dart rubbed on the back of a poison dart frog will kill a howler monkey in less than a minute.
The natural world is, as everyone knows, not the only source of toxic chemicals. In fact, people worry more about synthetic chemicals than natural ones. Organophosphorous insecticides are typical of the fast-acting synthetic chemicals. They affect the nervous system and some members of this chemical family are so toxic that they cannot even be used in insecticides because they would harm the users.
One common chemical of concern to the public is dioxin, a byproduct of industrial processes. This chemical happens to be extremely toxic to female guinea pigs--it takes only a dose of 0.0006 mg/kg b.w. to cause death--while it takes a dose about 5,000 times greater to kill a hamster. Fortunately, humans are more resistant to dioxin.
In addition to dioxin, one notable example of extreme toxicity of manufactured chemicals is