A Case of Arsenic

Years ago, I took a chemistry class. It was a strange affair, very short on the explosions on which I’d pinned my hopes. However it had one redeeming virtue. One of the assignments was to “creatively discuss an element of the periodic table, including its relevant properties.” The resulting fiction resurfaced yesterday; in honor of #ThrowbackThursday, here it is.

The detective and sidekick leaned against the bar, smoking and thinking. They were silent for a minute until their drinks arrived, then started to talk over the case.

“Well, before he gets here: he’s been implicated in a lot, but do you think Arsenic is responsible this time?”

“Hmmm…it’s hard to say. After all, there is the whole question of mistaken identity: with 8 different isotopes to chose from, all going by As, its much more difficult to find the perpetrator than if it was, say, helium. On the other hand, the low solubility guarantees that he won’t try to go on the run in water when we start asking questions, and his tracks are everywhere; trace amounts resulting from natural environmental sources should make tracking easy. “

“Assuming they decided to cooperate? “

“Well, yes. If all else fails we know the I.D./Atomic Number of 33. That’ll count for something. “

“What, you think we should just look him up by atomic number? Won’t he be aware of that?”

“Perhaps, but he’s reasonably dense – 5.7 g.cm-3 at 14’C. Not bad…and when we find him, of course, we can use that in our questioning session. We’ll need to – we’ll need to really pour on the pressure, because otherwise it takes 814’C at 36 atm to make him melt. Provocation won’t be much of an option, either. With a boiling point of  6158’C, well…like I said, pressure. That’s the key: Pressure. Raise pressure in the questioning process, and the temperature required to bring about boiling goes down.”

“Mentioning his track record might do it. He’s well known for many poisonings.”

“Yes, well, the lethal dosage is about 100 mg, so it doesn’t take much at all for some minor overdosing to become serious.”

“What about possible working relationships? Are we likely to have to worry about more than just him here?”

“He’s a member of the Va group of the Periodic Table – so he combines well with other elements. Also tends to bio-accumulate – when he moves further up the food chain, he builds up in tissues. Could be a problem, but we’ll just have to be prepared in advance. “

“Of course…what does he usually do when not poisoning people?”

“Oh, this and that. Has many connections in business, actually; the glass industry, wood preservatives, semiconductors, microchips, a history of use in artist’s pigments. Very versatile, as long as he’s watched carefully.”

“Hah, the watching part is our job. I guess we’d better get back to it.”

“Yes. Watching and asking questions…Wasn’t he supposed to show up for a meeting with us?”

Both investigators were quiet for a minute, then carefully looked into their empty drink glasses. 

“Wait – maybe we should have discussed antidotes first?”


NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards. (date retrieved: 11/03/2010). http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/npg/pgintrod.html.

Toxicological Profile for Arsenic – Chemical And Physical Information. (date retrieved: 11/03/2010). www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp2c4.pdf

Water Treatment Solutions: Lenntech. (date retrieved: 11/03/2010). http://www.lenntech.com/periodic/elements/as.htm.

Published by Marushka

I dream curiosity and write words that change brains.

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