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Arsenic Dye??

Green Pigment Fabric Color

Was very popular during the latter half of the 1800s. In 1775, a Swedish chemist – Karl Scheele discovered how to make a beautiful green pigment with copper arsenite. The color was named Scheeles or Schloss green. Scheele's green was such a success that it was commonly used as a tint in paper and paint and eventually domestic fabrics. Even though Scheele's green was very pretty and the dye was very stable. (It didn’t fade), it was also very toxic. After all, arsenic was one of the main ingredients.

This is what Scheele's green looks like

Textile workers especially were affected by the manufacturing process. Arsenic exposure causes skin rashes, abdominal issues, headache, hair loss and eventually death. The manufacturers knew how dangerous the pigment was to produce, but many did not take safety precautions. Of note – In 1861, a young textile worker, Matilda Scheurer - 19 – whose job was to apply green dye to hat flowers – developed symptoms of vomiting, her eyes turned green and when she was in her last hours, said she saw her world as green. The shop and eventually the surrounding establishments were investigated, and it was found the majority of workers were in the same situation. The arsenic was being absorbed into the bodies of the workers by licking the end of the paintbrush and then applying pigment to the flowers. It was also absorbed into the skin through the manufacturing process. The medical profession knew what was going on and warned the manufacturers and the public. Although some manufacturers protected their workers, it wasn't common practice.

Those who wore and were exposed to the finished products also faced health issues. The fabric dyes would leach from the fabric into the skin of the wearer, causing all sorts of arsenic-related medical symptoms.

An interesting tidbit...

In 1821, Napoleon passed on amidst rumors of poisoning. It was found out later that he actually died of cancer, but…. In the 1960s hair analysis was done on his body and one of the results found was an elevated level of arsenic. Not enough to kill him, but enough to make him rather uncomfortable. Fast forward to 1980 – wallpaper analysis found highly toxic Scheele's Green on the wallpaper of his bedroom. Maybe there was something to those poisoning rumors after all….

(this is not Napoleons bedroom, but an example of popular wall paper of the time.)

It is interesting that even to this day, the color green has a bit of a reputation among those in the garment trades. Coco Chanel – was very superstitious and believed the color green was linked to bad luck.

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