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Arsenic Hunt: Books Infused with Arsenic Seized from Libraries in Germany and France

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Photo: Arsenic Hunt: Books Infused with Arsenic Seized from Libraries in Germany and France. Source: facebook.com/bibliothequebnf
Photo: Arsenic Hunt: Books Infused with Arsenic Seized from Libraries in Germany and France. Source: facebook.com/bibliothequebnf

Four books have been seized from the National Library of France over fears that their covers may be laced with poisonous arsenic.

A large-scale campaign in Germany since March to track down books containing arsenic has raised concerns in France.

Photo: Arsenic Hunt: Books Infused with Arsenic Seized from Libraries in Germany and France. Source: facebook.com/bibliothequebnf  

All 19th-century volumes printed in the UK have emerald green covers. At the time, arsenic was widely used to colour books.

The National Library of France said that the books can cause only minor damage if they come into contact with it.

"We have quarantined these works and an external laboratory will analyse them to assess how much arsenic is in each volume," said a spokesperson for the National Library of France.

The four books include an 1862-1863 edition of the Royal Horticultural Society, two volumes of Irish Ballads by Edward Hayes in 1855, as well as a bilingual anthology of Romanian poetry by Henry Stanley in 1856.

In Germany, tens of thousands of books were recently removed from the shelves of university libraries on suspicion of arsenic poisoning. These are works published in the 19th century, which can be recognised by the presence of an emerald green colour on the cover, binding, flyleaf or spine.

The list of potentially dangerous publications was compiled as part of the Poison Book Project. The initiative is implemented by researchers from the University of Delaware in collaboration with the Winterthur Museum of Delaware.

Since 2019, the team has checked hundreds of book covers for heavy metals and compiled a list of potentially dangerous publications.

Four copies from the list were among the collection of the National Library of France, which includes more than 16 million books.

The Poison Book Project states that books impregnated with the toxin should be stored with caution, as they can pose a health risk to those who handle them.

The World Health Organisation warns against long-term exposure to arsenic in drinking water and food, stating that the substance is "highly toxic in its inorganic form". They do not give any specific advice on how to handle items containing arsenic.    

Photo: Arsenic Hunt: Books Infused with Arsenic Seized from Libraries in Germany and France. Source: facebook.com/bibliothequebnf 



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