Deadly Doses: A Podcast Guide to Poisons

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Creation Date March 15th, 2020
Updated Date Updated December 4th, 2020
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  1. In our long, evolutionary history, modernity is just a blip. The wiring of our brains took place over hundreds of thousands of years of hunting and gathering food out in the wilderness, and nothing proves that more vividly than the practice of mushroom hunting. It’s incredibly addictive, even to those who know all too well the associated dangers.
  2. When reporter Brenna Farrell was a new mom, her son gave her and her husband a scare -- prompting them to call Poison Control. For Brenna, the experience was so odd, and oddly comforting, that she decided to dive into the birth story of this invisible network of poison experts, and try to understand the evolving relationship we humans have with our poisonous planet. As we learn about how poison control has changed over the years, we end up wondering what a place devoted to data and human connection can tell us about ourselves in this cultural moment of anxiety and information-overload. Call the national Poison Help Hotline at 1-800-222-1222 or text POISON to 797979 to save the number in your phone. This episode was reported by Brenna Farrell and was produced by Annie McEwen. Special thanks to Wendy Blair Stephan, Whitney Pennington, Richard Dart, Marian Moser Jones, and Nathalie Wheaton. Thanks also to Lewis Goldfrank, Robert Hoffman, Steven Marcus, Toby Litovitz, James O'Donnell, and Joseph Botticelli.   Support Radiolab today at   Further Reading:  The Poisoner's Handbook, by Deborah Blum The Poison Squad, by Deborah Blum Illinois Poison Center’s latest “A Day in the Life of a Poison Center” post You can find out more about the country’s 55 poison centers at the American Association of Poison Control Centers, including a snapshot of the latest available from the National Poison Data System (2106):  "Poison Politics: A Contentious History of Consumer Protection Against Dangerous Household Chemicals in the United States," by Marian Moser Jones:  2011 article from The Annals of Emergency Medicine: "The Secret Life of America's Poison Centers," Richard Dart  A 1954 article from Edward Press -- one of the key figures in creating a formalized poison control system in Chicago in the early 1950s, Press and Gdalman are credited with starting the first poison control center in the US in 1953 in Chicago: "A Poisoning Control Program" Edward Press and Robert B Mellins 
  3. Covert spies painting nerve agents on doorknobs? It's not the only way to poison someone. We hear stories of radioactive paint, formaldehyde-spiked baby formula, and a beautiful garden full of plants that could kill you. Guests: Deborah Blum, Kathryn Harkup, Amy Stewart, Kate Moore
  4. The Marquise de Brinvilliers is a subject of operas and stories, a larger-than-life villainess who murdered her family with poison and almost got away with it. Almost. Learn more about your ad-choices at
  5. Considering how synonymous this episode's element is with "poison," it's shocking how eager people have historically been to ingest the stuff.
  6. Snakebites are common but antivenom is expensive to develop. So a doctor goes to extreme lengths to find a solution. | Subscribe to our weekly newsletter here.
  7. One of the longest-running public health epidemics in American history involves a handful of baby teeth, a creepy cartoon character and The Young Lords. This is a story about a fight for accountability. Hosted by Kai Wright. Reported by Christopher Werth. Support for WNYC reporting on lead is provided by the New York State Health Foundation, improving the health of all New Yorkers, especially the most vulnerable. Learn more at Additional support for WNYC’s health coverage is provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Jane and Gerald Katcher and the Katcher Family Foundation, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The Lead Industry Memos In this, our first episode, we tell the story of how the lead industry fooled the public into thinking its products were safe. Thankfully, as you'll hear, a number of activists, researchers and pediatricians developed the scientific evidence needed to prove the lead industry wrong. Our interaction and graphic designer, Clarisa Diaz, made this fantastic flowchart that shows how those battles were won: Our reporting found that the lead industry characterized lead poisoning as a problem that only affected people of color, and therefore, was one it couldn’t do much to solve. For example, in a letter dated December 21, 1949, Manfred Bowditch from the Lead Industries Association wrote to Joseph C. Aub, a doctor whose research the industry was funding. Bowditch was unhappy about another physician named Randolph Byers, who was the first to prove children who survived extreme cases of lead poisoning were left with severe brain damage. Then, as now, Baltimore had a large black population and was among the cities with high levels of lead exposure. It was a theme Bowditch would expand upon in the following decade. In another letter dated July 11, 1956. he wrote to Felix Wormser, a former director of the Lead Industries Association who was then serving as Assistant Secretary of Mineral Resources under President Eisenhower. Both men were concerned about an article that appeared in Parade magazine that year on childhood lead poisoning. Bowditch makes his case: A year later, Bowditch wrote to Dr. Robert Kehoe at the Ethyl Corporation, a company created by General Motors that pioneered the use of lead in gasoline. Far from accepting any blame on the part of the industry, Bowditch lays out what he believes are the real culprits: To hear the full episode, click "Listen" above.
  8. In this podcast episode, we discuss cyanide. We've all seen it in the movies and maybe even heard about it in real life. We discuss some poisonings in the past and the potential for future poisonings.
  9. Former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko died in a London hospital in 2006, after drinking tea poisoned with the highly radioactive material - polonium. But who wanted him dead, and why? And where did his killers get the polonium from?
  10. Deadly elixirs in tiny bottles play into the cruelest machinations of history, fiction and myth. In this episode of the Stuff to Blow Your Mind podcast, join Robert and Christian as they sneak six of these deadly concoctions from the poisoner’s chest and explore each one’s power and place in human history. Learn more about your ad-choices at

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