The Death of Cleopatra - Guido Cagnacci [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Cleopatra, Toxicology and Transport Regulations

Grieving for the death of Mark Antony, whom she loved most dearly, having no hope for her son Ptolemy Caesar to live, forget becoming emperor,Cleopatra foresaw her doomed future. What can be more humiliating to Cleopatra, who called herself the goddess Isis, the wife of Osiris, than being paraded in victory march in Rome by the triumphant Octavian, who later became Emperor Augustus Caesar.

Today, the 12th August 30 BCE, Cleopatra VII Philopator said her last words, as she applied the second asp (Egyptian cobra) to her arm:

As sweet as balm, as soft as air, as gentle,

 O Antony! Nay, I will take thee too.

   What should I stay!”

The Death of Cleopatra - Guido Cagnacci [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The Death of Cleopatra – Guido Cagnacci [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
 When we sift through the pages of history we can see the first use of poison in warfare recorded by Homer in Odyssey, poison from hellebores used by Odysseus on his arrows. Ibn Wahshiya, an Iraqi alchemist, agriculturalist, farm toxicologist, Egyptologist and historian wrote toxicology treatise, Book of Poisons, in 9th century C.E.

Coffee, tea or cola all these beverages contain ‘caffeine’, in the second edition of “A Small Dose of Toxicology” – The Health effects of Common Chemicals- Steven G. Gilbert says “Most consumers of caffeine are well aware of the benefits of this drug as well as the consequences of consuming too much. Through trial and error, we have learned how to moderate our consumption of caffeine to avoid any undesirable effects. In regulating our consumption of caffeine we are applying the most basic principle of toxicology: dose/response.

What dose constitute a substance as poison in transport regulations?

During transport we do not expect the Master of the vessel or her crew to open the packages and start eating or drinking the dangerous goods. The only way people on board ships or others involved in transport of goods by Rail, Road, River or Air can be exposed to chemicals are while handling the packages which carry stains of chemicals on the exterior or while dealing with a spillage or fire. Example a crew handle leaking packages and without washing hands consume food; oral route of exposure.

Paracelsus(1493-1541) said “All substances are poisons; there is none, which is not a poison. The right dose differentiates a poison from a remedy.”

In transport regulations the word “toxic” has the same meaning as “poisonous”.

Toxic Gases are placed under Class 2.3 (Toxic gases) and Toxic Liquids and Solids are placed under Class 6.1 (Toxic substances).

Class 6.1, for the purpose of packing toxic liquids and solids are grouped into three packing groups:

  1. Packing group I: substances and preparations presenting a high toxicity risk;
  2. Packing group II: substances and preparations presenting a medium toxicity risk;
  1. Packing group III: substances and preparations presenting a low toxicity risk.

For making this grouping consideration from both accidental human experience and data obtained from animal experiments are taken.

The possible routes of exposures are:

oral ingestion;

dermal contact; and

inhalation of dusts, mists or vapours.

Class 6.1 Grouping criteria for administration through oral ingestion, dermal contact and inhalation of dusts and mists

Class 6.1 Grouping criteria for administration through oral ingestion, dermal contact and inhalation of dusts and mists

LD50 of Egyptian cobra (Naja haje), Cleopatra chose for her death, is Sub-

Cutaneous 1.15 mg/kg, Intra-venous 0.96 mg/kg, Intra-peritoneal 0.185 mg/kg.

For oral and dermal the dosage is calculated mg per kg body weight and for inhalation dosage is calculated by mg per litre of air we breathe. An excellent example to understand dosage is explained on coffee by Steven G. Gilbert in the second edition of “A Small Dose of Toxicology”. Below table describes same.

Dosage of Caffeine in Coffee
Dosage of Caffeine in Coffee

What is LD50 and LC50?

LD50(median lethal dose) for acute oral toxicity is the statistically derived single dose of a substance that can be expected to cause death within 14 days in 50 per cent of young adult albino rats when administered by the oral route. The LD50 value is expressed in terms of mass of test substance per mass of test animal (mg/kg).

LD50 for acute dermal toxicity is that dose of the substance which, administered by continuous contact for 24 hours with the bare skin of the albino rabbit, is most likely to cause death within 14 days in one half of the animals tested. The result is expressed in milligrams per kilogram body mass.

LC50for acute toxicity on inhalation is that concentration of vapour, mist or dust which, administered by continuous inhalation to both male and female young adult albino rats for one hour, is most likely to cause death within 14 days in one half of the animals tested. The result is expressed in milligrams per litre of air for dusts and mists or in millilitres per cubic metre of air (parts per million) for vapours.

If you are involved in transporting toxic substances, then it is your legal and moral duty to ensure that the consignment strictly meets the requirements of relevant regulations for the mode of transport.

Recommended readings:

  1. A Small Dose of Toxicologyhttp://www.toxipedia.org/display/dose/A+Small+Dose+of+Toxicology
  2. Chapter 2.2 and 2.6 of UN Model Regulations 18th Revised Editionhttp://www.unece.org/trans/danger/publi/unrec/rev18/18files_e.html

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