Archive for January, 2010

Arsenic Poisoning – Beyond Medieval Political Assassinations

I began getting Google News Alerts using the keyword “poisoning” about five months ago.  I am amazed at all the news articles that share stories of intentional poisoning, from a neighbor adding antifreeze to a pet’s water in “in revenge”, to the woman who mixed up a special margarita cocktail to poison her boyfriend.  And then there is the case of the arsenic-tainted coffee at a university.  The list goes on.  Couple these local news events with the inquiries we receive in the laboratory and you might be baffled at the prevalence of poisoning suspicion.

One of the most common “poisons of choice” is arsenic.  Arsenic has been used for hundreds of years for medicinal purposes to political assassinations.  There is an interesting, fact-filled article on the use of arsenic throughout history.  However, arsenic is not fun – it is dangerous.  This heavy metal is now most commonly seen in certain occupations that include but are not limited to:

  • Smelting
  • Wood preservation
  • Glass production
  • Electronic semiconductor manufacturing
  • Working with pesticides

Certain areas of the world, including the United States, have water sources that are known to naturally have high concentrations of arsenic.  And then there are the incidences of attempted murder – spouse poisoning spouse; boyfriend tainting the food or drink of a girlfriend; child poisoning a parent; an act of revenge.

What are some of the signs and symptoms of arsenic poisoning?  You may at first think you have the flu or a virus, but then the symptoms don’t go away and get worse over time.  Watch for:

  • Violent stomach pains
  • Clammy sweats
  • Garlic smell on your breath or sweat
  • Sweat may have an orange tint
  • Excessive saliva production
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • Dryness and tightness in the throat
  • Thirst
  • Hoarseness and/or difficult with speech
  • Convulsions

If you suspect you are being poisoned, you can contact your local Poison Control Center, such as our friends at the Southeast Texas Poison Control Center.  You will also want to visit your doctor and share your concerns and symptoms with him or her.  If all else fails, call us – we can test both biological specimens as well as liquids, food (including pet food), or items with residue for a particular poison or through an unknown poisons and toxins analysis.  Tests can be conducted using blood, urine or even hair when suspected exposure is more long-term.

Bay Area Human Resources Management Association (BAHRMA) – First Class Group

ExperTox participated as an exhibitor in the Bay Area Human Resources Management Association’s (BAHRMA) annual conference at Moody Gardens in Galveston yesterday.  Wanda Rivers with Benefits & Compensation Specialists headed up the event and boy, was I impressed.

Some members of BAHRMA may say “why, attendance was way down from last year due to budget cuts?”.  Over and above meeting great people, it was the thought, creativity and effort Wanda and her team put into ensuring their sponsors and exhibitors were paid attention to.

Let’s just be upfront – nobody wants to feel like they are going to be bombarded with sales pitches when entering an exhibit area, so in some respects exhibitors get “left in the cold”. On the flip side, exhibitors pay a good amount of money to attend, from paying for the booth and incidentals, to travel and accommodations.   The exhibitors attend to gain exposure to new potential clients and if truth be known, most don’t come to “sell” right then and there; they come to introduce, educate, and share how they can help the attendees.  So how do you get a group that is afraid the “used car salesperson” is going to jump on their every booth visit feel comfortable with a group that does need to see some return on their investment?  ASK WANDA.

I have attended many exhibitor functions and out of my many years, she did a first-class, top-of-the-line job on creating a win-win.  What did she do differently to generate exhibitor traffic?

  • She creatively generated traffic through a raffle.  However, the attendee could only get a raffle ticket from the exhibitor if they asked learning questions and became genuinely involved in a conversation.
  • She ensured exhibitors had time with attendees ever 1 1/2 hours during session breaks
  • She divided the attendees up into groups.  Each group had to interview their assigned exhibitor, learn more about them, then one person from that group introduced the exhibitor to the others from the information they learned
  • She made sure there was one exhibitor and one speaker at every table during lunch

What a win-win – I can’t speak for anyone else, but I had fun and met some very interesting people, including prospects, in the process.

I wish I could end this blog with a video of the Alvin Drum Line that woke everyone up at the beginning of the conference.  They rocked as much as BAHRMA rocks!

How Can You Become Involved in Breast Cancer Awareness?

ExperTox’s  first major project in the late 1990’s was for an organization called the CANDO Platinum Research Project.  We helped identify why some women with breast implants were becoming very ill.  It was discovered that platinum, used as a bonding agent in silicone implants, was the cause of these toxic effects.

ExperTox supports breast cancer awareness and research, and is involved in The Rose in Houston, Texas.  Our friend Kathi Crawford, Owner of People Possibilities, is an avid bicycle rider and involved through Tour de Pink.  Here are a few events you might be interested in participating in to help raise money and awareness for breast cancer, research and to celebrate survivors:

We’ll end with a wonderful video created by St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland, Oregon, The “Pink Glove Dance”.

Teen Drug Use and a Parent’s Dilemma

Fact:  Illegal drug use by teens  is prevalent and a major concern for all parents.  According to Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD), in a 2005 survey one-half (50%) of all teens have tried an illicit drug by the time they finish high school with 15.5% of youths ages 12 – 17  indicating they were approached by someone selling drugs within the last month. 

 Now, couple the direct concerns associated with drug use and abuse with an additional parent dilemma – how their reactions may affect their relationship with their child.  No parent wants to believe their son or daughter may be experimenting with or using drugs.  Suspicions arise due to:

  •  Significant changes in behavior, grades at school and relationships
  • Choices in friends and peer groups
  • Pieces of evidence, such as if a teen smells like marijuana smoke after going out with his or her friends, or finding pills, powders or residues in their room, car or personal belongings
  • Prescription drugs, money or other valuables missing from the home

Trust is a real factor.  When a parent fears breaking a bond of trust with his or her child because they may be wrong, they subconsciously hold off on addressing the possible drug use issue.  The reality is this – once a person makes an assumption, doesn’t their level of trust and associated behavior change anyway?  How will a mother or father feel if their child is involved in a serious car accident, thrown in jail for possession or theft, or any other life-changing event due to drug impairment or use when they suspected but did nothing about their suspicions?

Keeping an open line of communication and making decisions based on facts is critical to a healthy relationship, as well as reducing the chances of drug use by your teen.  To learn more about how to talk to your teen about drugs and what to do if you suspect drug use, check out these resource websites:


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ExperTox® is a recognized forensic toxicology laboratory, combining advanced technology and science with a human heart.

We use our scientific expertise to provide our customers answers to their substance abuse, use and exposure questions.

We focus our personal character on supporting, caring for and understanding what our clients are going through as they contemplate and proceed through the testing process.

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