France quarantines ‘poisonous’ books
19th-century titles laced with arsenic

France quarantines ‘poisonous’ books

/ 05:32 AM April 27, 2024

France quarantines ‘poisonous’ books

RARE FIND, HEALTH RISK France’s national library said on Thursday it had quarantined four 19th-century books laced with highly poisonous arsenic. These were two volumes of “The Ballads of Ireland” anthology (1855), a bilingual anthology of Romanian poetry (1856) and a book on the Royal Horticultural Society of the United Kingdom (1862-1863). —AFP

PARIS — France’s national library said Thursday it had removed four 19th-century books from its shelves whose emerald green covers were likely laced with highly poisonous arsenic.

The library said handling the books—which were printed in Britain—would probably cause only minor harm, but it was taking them away for further analysis.


READ: A day in the National Library


“We have put these works in quarantine and an external laboratory will analyze them to evaluate how much arsenic is present in each volume,” it said.

The Paris institution identified the offending copies after US researchers discovered publishers in the Victorian era had used the chemical to color book bindings.

The arsenic-containing green pigments were called Paris Green, Emerald Green or even Scheele’s Green after a German-born chemist.

Poison Book Project

Testing hundreds of book covers for heavy metals since 2019, researchers at the University of Delaware have drawn up a list of potentially dangerous volumes as part of the Poison Book Project.

The French library found its collection of more than 16 million titles included four copies of books on the list.

READ: Cebu City public library still relevant in digital age


They include two volumes of “The Ballads of Ireland” by Edward Hayes published in 1855, a bilingual anthology of Romanian poetry by Henry Stanley from 1856, and the 1862-1863 book of the Royal Horticultural Society.

The National Library of France said it would also examine other green-covered books “beyond the Poison Book Project list.”

The World Health Organization warns long-term exposure to inorganic arsenic, mainly through drinking water and food, can lead to skin lesions and skin cancer.

But it makes no mention of contact with objects containing it.

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Subscribe to our daily newsletter

By providing an email address. I agree to the Terms of Use and acknowledge that I have read the Privacy Policy.

The Poison Book Project says arsenic-laced green bindings present a health risk to librarians, booksellers, collectors and researchers, and should be handled and stored with caution.

TAGS: books, France

© Copyright 1997-2024 | All Rights Reserved

We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By continuing, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. To find out more, please click this link.