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Old 29th September 2006, 03:46 AM   #57
Join Date: Jun 2006
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Posts: 8
Default Arsenic toxicity

Hi all
I'm really grateful for this forum, what a fantastic resource!
I just wanted to go back to the issue of arsenic residues remaining on blades, and their potential toxicity. I'm currently working on a project about keris in public collections for my masters degree in conservation, and as part of this I recently tested nine blades in an Australian museum's collection for the presence of arsenic. Having discussed the project with Alan Maisey previously, and understanding that the staining process (when done properly) should not result in any free arsenic remaining on the blade's surface, I did not really expect much from these tests, however all tested positive, with two having particularly strong results, up to 0.35mg/L (the Merck test I used requires the sample to be dissolved/suspended in water). While it would be difficult for any staff handling these objects to inhale, ingest, or absorb a signifcant amount of the residue, it is certainly present in sufficient amounts to cause adverse health effects. However, the World Heath Organisation states in its arsenic safety guide ( "In man, the smallest recorded fatal dose is in the range of 70-180 mg, but recovery has been reported after much larger doses" - this suggests that for it to work effectively as a poison on a keris blade, there would have to be much more residue on the surface than would result from staining with warangan.
Raffles' wrote in his History of Java "it is usual to immerse the blade in lime juice and a solution of arsenic, which, by eating away and corroding the iron, may probably render the wound more angry and inflamed, and consequently more difficult to cure, but it has never been considered that death is the consequence." (vol. 1 p. 352) ... I reckon it would depend on where the wound is!
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