That time Fluoride killed 47 people in a hospital

I wasn’t around, but the Internet remembers. Tomorrow is the 74th anniversary of the publication of the following Time magazine article:

sodium-fluoride-380Assistant Cook A. M. McKillop was short-handed and in a tearing hurry. His supper menu at the Oregon State Hospital for the Insane, in Salem, called for scrambled eggs. He needed powdered milk to make them. Against the rules he dispatched a kitchen-helper inmate to the catacomb-like cellar to bring him a new supply.

The eggs were served. At long tables in one dining ward, 467 mental patients clinked their forks and spoons against their tin and enamelware plates. Minutes later they began to drop in anguish to the floor. That night and the next day 47 of them died …

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It turns out a lethal dose of sodium fluoride is an amount the size of an aspirin tablet.

Within minutes people got stomach cramps, leg cramps, started to vomit, and got respiratory difficulties. Overall, 467 people got sick and 47 people died. Forensic examination determined that the poisoning was due to a mix-up in the kitchen. Instead of powdered milk, sodium fluoride, a poison to kill cockroaches, had been used in the cooking process.

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The actual event was November 18, 1942. A few years later, in January of 1945, fluoride was added to a public water supply in Grand Rapids for the first time.  Here’s a more complete account of the poisoning:

One of the most tragic incidents in Salem’s history was the poisoning of nearly 500 patients and staff at the Oregon State Hospital, on the evening of November 18, 1942. Many who ate the scrambled eggs served for dinner that evening would later claim that they had tasted funny, some saying they’d been salty, others saying they tasted soapy. Within five minutes of consuming them, the diners began to sicken, experiencing violent stomach cramps, vomiting, leg cramps, and respiratory paralysis. Witnesses described patients crawling on the floor, unable to sit or stand. The lips of the stricken turned blue, and some vomited blood. The first death came within an hour; by midnight, there were 32; by 4 a.m., 40. Local doctors rushed to the hospital to help out staff doctors. The hospital morgue, outfitted for two to three bodies, was overwhelmed.

Eventually 47 people would die; in all, 467 were sickened. Though five wards had been served the suspect eggs, all the deaths occurred in four; in the fifth, an attendant had tried the eggs, found them odd tasting, and ordered her charges not to eat them. … But the eggs were part of a 36,000-pound shipment which had been divided between schools, NYA projects and state institutions in Oregon and Washington, 30,000 pounds of which had already been consumed with no ill effects. State officials confirmed that the eggs had been properly stored, and the president of National Egg Products Inc. pointed out that eggs bad enough to kill would be so obviously spoiled that no one would eat them.

The day after the poisoning, with dozens still ill, pathologists determined that the sickness and death had been caused by sodium flouride, an ingredient in cockroach poison; pathology reports showed large amounts of the compound in the stomachs of the dead victims. Five grams–the size of an aspirin–would have been fatal; some of the dead had eaten more sodium flouride than eggs. Cockroach poison was known to be available at the hospital, kept in a locked cellar room to which only regular kitchen employees had keys. State Police launched an investigation, and began interviewing staff and patients at the hospital.

Finally, several days after the poisonings, two cooks at the hospital, A.B. McKillop and Mary O’Hare, admitted that they knew what had happened, that they had realized soon after the symptoms had struck, but had not come forward for fear of being charged. McKillop took responsibility, saying he had been the one to send a patient trusty, George Nosen, to the cellar to get dry milk powder for the scrambled eggs he was preparing. He had given Nosen his keys to the cellar, and Nosen returned with a tin half-full of powder, an estimated six pounds of which were mixed into the scrambled eggs at McKillop’s direction. When people had begun getting ill, he had questioned Nosen about where he’d found the powder, and discovered he had brought roach poison. … District Attorney M.B. Hayden ordered both cooks arrested. A grand jury declined to indict them; the patient George Nosen was never charged. Considered by many of his fellow patients to be a mass murderer, he became something of a pariah at the hospital where he spent the rest of his life. Two brief attempts at life outside the institution failed, and he died at the State Hospital 41 years later, after suffering a heart attack during a fight with another patient.

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One patient who survived had permanent paralysis and numbness.

A 29-year-old patient who had barely survived the night told Oregonian staff writer Richard Nokes his story the next day. “As soon as I had swallowed the first spoonfuls of my eggs my face became numb,” he whispered weakly, through lips still blue from the effects of the toxin. “My teeth began to ache. Pretty soon my legs became paralyzed. They have been paralyzed most of the time since, my face is still numb.” … One good thing did come from the whole debacle, though. The Oregon State Hospital was required to get the roach poison out of the fruit room, and put a label on it.

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So this stuff is in your toothpaste, right? Yes, but not enough to kill or obviously maim you like it did these unfortunate people. Let’s look at some numbers:

One of the most popular toothpastes on Amazon right now is Crest 3D White Luxe Glamorous White Vibrant Whitening Toothpaste which says it is an “Enamel safe fluoride toothpaste to help prevent cavities.” It has as the active ingredient, sodium fluoride, 0.243%. That doesn’t sound like much. How much toothpaste should people use per brushing?

According to dental research, one gram of fluoride toothpaste per brushing is the desirable quantity.

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In 1 gram of toothpaste, you get 0.00243 grams of sodium flouride, or 2.43 mg. A tube is 41 oz which is 1,162 grams of paste, so we can see that there are 2.82 grams total of sodium flouride in a whole tube of Crest 3D White Luxe Glamorous White Vibrant Whitening Toothpaste. The human acute lethal dose of sodium fluoride is 5 grams.

It has been stated that 5 grams of sodium fluoride is the probable lethal oral dose [Largent 1961].

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By the time you have used two tubes of fluoride toothpaste, you’ve had 5.6 g of Sodium Fluoride in your mouth, more than the lethal dose. Of course, you don’t typically eat it so only some is absorbed into your teeth and tissues when you are brushing. How much? I’m still wondering how to figure that out.

Anyway it is highly likely that 5 grams will kill you, but how much will make you sick?

If 5 mg F/kg has been ingested, it should be assumed that an emergency exists and that immediate treatment and hospitalization are required.

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There are 2.4 mg per 1 gram of paste, the normal amount you brush with. If you use a little more than twice the normal amount of paste and swallow it, you will have ingested 5 mg of Flouride. Of course, the danger is calculated by your body weight in kilograms, and very few people weigh 1 kilogram (2.205 lbs).

At 150 lbs your mass is 68 kg and you’d get emergency level sick at 340 mg of Sodium Fluoride, which is about 1/8th of a tube. If you ate 1/8 tube, and were 150 lbs, you would probably have an emergency event.

Do your own math to check mine and let me know if you see any big mistakes, but that’s how I calculate it.

I’ve used only fluoride free toothpastes for years and have stayed cavity free. To stay cavity free, get a product with Novamin to remineralize your teeth, eat things that kill s. mutans, and stop eating processed sugar!

 

 

 

 

 

5 Comments

  1. Where do youget toothpaste with NovaMin in it? I’ve looked highand low but can only get NovaMin in the toothpaste that contains fluoride and I get that from the UK> I want it without fluoride. Where can I get it? Thanks.

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  2. Where do you get toothpaste with NovaMin in it? I’ve looked high and low but can only get NovaMin in the toothpaste that contains fluoride and I get that from the UK. I want it without fluoride. Where can I get it? Thanks.

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    1. I wish I knew. I bought my supply before they had pulled them all from US suppliers. File under “products that worked so well they cut into profits and were thus obliterated.”

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      1. I can’t figure out who is responsible. It would be either the ADA, FDA or the company itself. It would seem like if it was the company they would make more money if they had a product like this on the market. It is pretty sleazy situation though. I use the Sensodyne with NovaMin but it has fluoride in it. I think my teeth are better since using it but I am not sure how it affects my family’s health.

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