Thallium, a metal, is probably largely unknown to the general public, but it has featured in a number of cases of homicidal, suicidal, and accidental poisoning. It has been used as a pesticide for killing insects and rats and has various uses in industry. At one time it was even used for removing unwanted hair and in the treatment of ringworm, for which a dose of 8 mg of thallium acetate per kilogram of body weight was given to children. This is dangerously close to the lethal dose of 12 mg per kilogram in adults. Needless to say, there have been a number of fatalities due to dosages having been incorrectly calculated, and some patients have suffered from its poisonous effects. The worst occurrence was in Granada, Spain in the 1930s when fourteen out of sixteen children who had been given the treatment died. The children had been given thallium acetate at a dose of 8 mg per kilogram of body weight, but the scales may have been inaccurate with the result that the dose was higher than intended.
The main cases of poisoning have been as a result of its use in preparations for killing pests such as cockroaches and rats. In the first half of the twentieth century several hundred accidental poisonings, suicides, and homicides were due to the use of Zelio paste (containing thallium
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