Mark Siddall points out poisons all around us

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Susan Watts/New York Daily News

 Mark Siddall, curator of the Division of Invertebrate Zoology at the American Museum of Natural History, oversees a new show about poison. He shows us various toxins and poisons in the environment: cocoa beans, coffee, hops, and salt.

Just because the city’s murder rate is on pace for a historic low doesn’t mean there aren’t dangers at every corner.

Wherever you step in the Big Apple — from the gutter to the grocery store — you’re surrounded by potential poisons.

It’s not cause to panic — but there’s reason to study up, according to American Museum of Natural History poison expert Mark Siddall.

“We live in a pretty safe environment,” says Siddall, who recently discovered a new species of venomous leech in the Amazon rain forest.

His new exhibit “The Power of Poison,” opening Saturday, tracks toxins throughout history, from Cleopatra’s deadly snakebite to the possibility Napoleon died due to arsenic in his wallpaper.

Siddall notes that chrysanthemums contain the toxin pyrethrum.

Susan Watts/New York Daily News

Siddall notes that chrysanthemums contain the toxin pyrethrum.

But it’s hardly necessary to travel to the jungle, or the pages of history, to find killer poisons.

In fact, the deadliest ones are often those we keep closest at hand.

“Alcohol is the number one cause of poisonings globally,” he says. “The second is the misuse of prescription pills.”

But there are others — and during a walk around Midtown last week, Siddall pointed out some common poisons in the city.

Castor Beans: Fans of “Breaking Bad” know all about ricin, a deadly poison made from castor beans, which grow throughout the city. It takes work to make ricin, but just eating these beans can make you sick.

Siddall points out that too much coffee can cause heart palpitations.

Susan Watts/New York Daily News

Siddall points out that too much coffee can cause heart palpitations.

Chocolate: Theobromine, a component in chocolate, affects humans as a mild stimulant, like caffeine. But keep your dogs away — it can be fatal for canines.

Coffee: The caffeine in coffee can cause heart palpitations and other unpleasant side effects if you drink enough. But it won’t kill you. “Even if you had 50 cups of coffee, you’d probably pee out the caffeine faster than it would accumulate in your body into a dangerous amount,” he says.

Spinach: This leafy green contains oxalic acid, which interferes with the body’s ability to absorb calcium. That’s not a problem for adults, but kids should avoid eating it raw.

Juniper berries: Common throughout the city, these little balls are one of the flavorings that give gin its taste. But like gin itself, avoid consuming large quantities.

Acetaminophen: The active painkiller in Tylenol has a very narrow therapeutic dose — and most people don’t realize it. “Just because two pills is good, it doesn’t mean five or six is better,” says Siddall.

Unripe persimmons: Eating this fruit before it’s ripe can cause painful blockages in the stomach. So be patient!

Antifreeze: It has a sweet smell and flavor, which tricks some into unwise consumption. Oddly, the antidote is to get the victim drunk, since alcohol destroys the poisonous enzymes in the antifreeze. “Don’t you have to be pretty smashed in the first place to drink antifreeze?” Siddall wonders.


Health – NY Daily News

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