September 30, 2022

SEP 30, toxic vignette: 'mad as a hatter' (the Danbury shakes)



Erethism: Does mercury matter?

You'll recall the phrase mad as a hatter?

And the Danbury shakes?

Toxic history takes.

World War Two closed the plant; that's the chatter.
Town's Still River's still feeling the splatter.

Erethismus (irritation) mercurialis, synonym for mercurialism, was well-known by Lewis Carroll's time, as signs of chronic poisoning had become common among workers in the hatting industry in which salts of mercury were used in the felting of furs; his character, the 'Mad Hatter' reflects the prevalent stereotype.

In the US, hat-making was centered in the Connecticut town of Danbury, where the majority of long-term workers were subject to the 'Danbury shakes' as well as other neuropsychiatric manifestations. The plant continued in operation, including the dumping of wastewater effluent, until the early 1940s. It closed at that time due to staffing shortages and the need for mercury in the armaments industry.

In 2020, a study of fish populations in Danbury's Still River showed alarming levels of mercury; the persistence of this toxic residue reflects concepts discussed in the poem biomagnification. 

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