Don’t Wear Green Tarletan Dresses

by Erin on January 6, 2010

From the (1883) Annual Report of the Massachusetts State Board of Health, Lunacy, and Charity:

Attention has very frequently been called to the presence of large amounts of arsenic in green tarlatan, which has given rise so many times to dangerous symptoms of poisoning when made into dresses and worn, so that it is very rare now to see a green tarlatan dress. This fabric is still used, however, to a very dangerous extent, chiefly for the purposes of ornamentation, and may often be seen embellishing the walls and tables at church and society fairs, and in confectionery, toy and dry-goods stores. The writer has repeatedly seen this poisonous fabric used at church fairs and picnics as a covering for confectionery and food, to protect the latter from flies. As is well known, the arsenical pigment is so loosely applied to the cloth that a portion of it easily separates upon the slightest motion. Prof. Hoffmann after examining 11 large number of specimens estimated that twenty or thirty grains of the pigment would separate from a dress per hour, when worn in a ball-room.

But green tarlatan is not the only fabric which contains arsenic. We find arsenic sometimes in other substances used in making articles of wearing apparel, usually in the form of arsenical pigments. The writer detected a large amount of arsenic in a specimen of cloth known as "Foulard cambric," which had been made into a dress; after wearing the dress a short time severe conjunctivitis was produced, together with nasal catarrh, pharyngitis, and symptoms of gastric irritation. The pattern of the dress consisted of alternate stripes of light-blue and navy-blue, and contained 0.291 grm. per square meter. Conjunctivitis has also been recorded from wearing of "tulle" dresses. A pustular eruption upon the neck and arms was caused by "a splendid dark-green dress, trimmed with light-green leaves," obtained "from a well-known Parisian atelier;" the dress was found to contain "a large percentage of arsenic."

Excessive irritation of the skin has frequently been caused by wearing stockings colored with an arsenical pigment. The writer has detected arsenic most frequently in light-red, magenta-colored and brown stockings; in one case, that of a child, which came to the writer's knowledge, great inflammation of that portion of the skin which came in contact with the stocking took place first, then occurred symptoms of general poisoning, which resulted in a short time in death.

Dr. Jabez Hogg reports also among other articles of wearing apparel fatal cases of poisoning from the green flannel lining of boots, and poisoning by maroon flannel shirts, by calico shirts, gloves, coat sleeves, hat linings, and paper collars.

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