Thursday 17 October 2013

Drowning in the dhrink

Pretty much everything can kill you if taken in excess.  And lots of things that we know to be toxic are used therapeutically in certain limited situations.  Botulinum toxin, strychnine, and deadly nightshade (Atropa belladona) all have their, suitably dilute, place in medicine.  I've mentioned Botox before in a guesstimation exercise to see how much it would take to kill you - a vanishing small quantity: about 150ng. [ng is a billionth of a gram].  And over the months of 2013 I've looked at the lethality of Sarin [maybe 150mg or a million times more concentrated than Botox] and  propylene [150kg or million times more than Sarin and then only effective if you ignite it] and finally carbon-dioxide [150tons or about 1000 times more that propylene].  I was thinking of floating a company called LD50, Inc, but CeeTox has already cornered the market.

Today (or it may be yesterday, parallel stories are reproducing on the interweb) being the 199th anniversary of the Great London Beer Flood, let us reflect on how lethal 3-5% dilute alcohol might be. In 1814 the Meux brewery, at the junction of Tottenham Court Rd and Oxford St in West London was celebrating its 50th year. The demand for Meux products was mighty and they had acquired a vat capable of containing more than 500,000 litres (500 tons) of porter.  This megabarrel was say, 7m diameter by 14m tall and built of enormous oak staves bound with iron hoops. which was how barrels of any drink - water, wine, whiskey, beer - was stored then.  And suddenly at 6pm it wasn't stored there any more because the whole thing explosively disintegrated.  The resulting tsunami rocked neighbouring vats off their foundations and they shattered as well smashing a hole in a brick wall to loose 1.5 million litres of beer on the neighbourhood.  7 people aged from 3 to 53 are known to have drowned as their basement homes flooded.  But as most of the victims were the dispossessed living in the St Giles Rookery there may have been more.  Anyway it took about 150 tons of beer to kill each of these unfortunates - proportionately the same amount as carbon dioxide killed 1700 people in Cameroon.  You don't have to get cirrhosis or drive drunk to have an excess of beer kill you.

Needless to say their surviving neighbours ("tsk, those slum dwellers") behaved in a most unseemly manner, filling every available receptacle with free beer and even stooping to lap it from the very street. 

1 comment:

  1. A story to grab the Irish mentality if ever there was one;)