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After a prolonged hearing before the committee on Public Health of the Legislature of 1891, at which much evidence was presented with reference to the dangers which may occur in connection with the use of arsenic as a pigment, for the purpose of coloring many of the articles in common household use, the following law was enacted:

[CHAP. 374, ACTS OF 1891.]

Be it enacted, etc., as follows:

SECTION 1. Whoever by himself or by his servant or agent, or as the servant or agent of any other person, manufactures, sells or exchanges, or has in his custody or possession with intent to sell or exchange, or exposes or offers for sale or exchange, any children's toys or confectionery, containing or coated wholly or in part with arsenic, shall be punished by fine of not less than fifty nor more than one hundred dollars.

SECT. 2. The state board of health may make such investigations and inquiries as they deem necessary as to the existence of arsenic in any paper, fabric or other article offered for sale or exchange, and for that purpose may appoint inspectors and chemists, and expend an amount not exceeding one thousand dollars, and report to the next legislature in print on or before the first day of February in the year eighteen hundred and ninety-two.

SECT. 3. Every person offering or exposing for sale or exchange any paper, fabric or other article shall furnish a sample thereof suflicient for the purpose of analysis, where such sample can be obtained without damage to the remaining portion, to any inspector, chemist or other agent or officer employed by the state board of health, who shall apply to him therefor for that purpose and who shall tender him the value of the same. Whoever violates the provisions of this section shall be punished as provided in section one of this act. [Approved June 5, 1891.

The State Board of Health attended to the duties authorized in the foregoing act, and appointed Dr. Wm. B. Hills of the medical department of Harvard University to make the investigations referred to in the second section of the act. The following report contains the results of his inquiries.

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The broader question as to the actual effect of the common use of arsenic as a pigment upon the public health appears to be excluded by the limited provisions of section 2 of this act. These more important questions are at present the subject of further investigations, and will be reported upon by the Board at a future day.


The following investigation was undertaken in accordance with a Resolve adopted by the Legislature of 1891, whereby the State Board of Health was authorized to make such investigations and inquiries as it might deem necessary as to the existence of arsenic in any paper, fabric, or other article offered for sale.

As the most practicable means of forming an opinion as to the extent to which arsenic and arsenical pigments are used at the present time, a large number of samples, of such articles in domestic use as have in former years contained dangerous quantities of arsenic, have been collected and subjected to a careful analysis for arsenic. Papers and fabrics have naturally occupied the most important place in this investigation; for the arsenical pigments used in the manufacture of these materials constitute the most important sources of chronic arsenical poisoning.

In all 1,018 samples have been collected in twenty cities and towns in different sections of the State. Of these, 629, or 61.8 per cent., were non-arsenical; 389, or 38.2 per cent., contained arsenic in appreciable quantities.

The nature of the samples together with the results of the analyses are shown in the following table:

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The small number of wall-papers is explained by the fact that the writer was able, as will appear later, to utilize a large number of analyses of such papers made in his private practice.


In all the investigations which have been made relative to the use of arsenical pigments, and the dangers which may result from their employment, great prominence has been given to wall-papers. As formerly made, these papers frequently contained a large amount of arsenic which was introduced with the coloring matter. During the past few years, however, the paper manufacturers have strenuously maintained that their goods contain no arsenic except possibly minute traces introduced with clay, glue, or other materials used in this industry; and that, admitting the possibility that injury may have resulted from the use of arsenical papers in the past, no harm can result at the present time unless from exposure to papers which were manufactured and placed on the walls several years ago; finally that, as arsenical papers are not manufactured at the present day, the necessity for legislation has ceased to exist. At the hearing before the Committee on Public Health of the Legislature of 1891, relative to the expediency of some legislation to regulate the manufacture and sale of materials containing arsenic, affidavits were presented from the most prominent manufacturers of wall-paper in this country, in which it was stated that "no arsenic is used in this manufacture, and arsenic forms no part of the materials or ingredients used in such manufacture."

The writer has had exceptional facilities for the investigation of the chemical side of this subject, having examined, during the past thirteen years, several thousand samples of paper for some of the largest dealers in Boston. The analyses made during the first three years of the writer's experience with this work and those made during the three years just past have been brought together, and the results are shown in the following tables:

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