Chuck Miller rellim at MAILHOST.TCS.TULANE.EDU
Thu Feb 6 11:39:59 EST 1997

Hi Bert and other Toxicos,

You asked--

>Can anyone tell me what makes white phosphorus so poisonous ?

I recalled (after reading your question) that white phosphorus is a
component of rodenticides and it is also used in warfare. I knew that the
pure form is very reactive and that it can combust in air, but I did not
remember a mechanism consistent with the toxicity of a small ingested dose.

After looking in several reference books it is clear that white phosphorus
is a very reactive chemical that will induce burns and frank tissue
necrosis upon contact. Inhalation of fumes causes pulmonary damage and
failure, but the toxic mechanism via the oral route is more curious. The
Merck Index says a lethal ingested dose for humans is 50-100 mg. From the
symptoms that result form an ingested dose, it seems the highly reactive
phosphorus (or intermediates or byproducts) is getting past the gut and
damaging other organs such as the liver and kidney. So, my answer to your
question is: I don't know. Perhaps some experts in this area can help us

Best of results,


Dr. Charles A. Miller, rellim at mailhost.tcs.tulane.edu
Dept. Environmental Health Sciences, SL29
Room 374, Center for Bioenvironmental Research
Tulane Univ. School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine
1430 Tulane Ave.
New Orleans, LA 70112

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