In the past I’ve blogged about many compounds that have been used for murder or been used as wartime bio-weapons. One of the common denominators of these lethal compounds is that many were first developed as pesticides and used for that purpose until the lethal effects to humans were realized.
One such chemical is dieldrin, an organochloride compound originally produced by a Denver, Colorado company in 1948. The product was marketed as an alternative to DDT and was widely used during the 1950s and into the 1970s as an insecticide on corn and cotton plants.
It was banned for that specific use in 1974 (and for all pesticide use by the mid-1980s) due to its harmful environmental impact and human health concerns. In the United States, dieldrin was the second most common pesticide detected in US pasteurized milk.
Chronic exposure to low and moderate levels of dieldrin can cause headaches, dizziness, vomiting, irritability and eventually can lead to spastic muscle movements. Health problems linked to this chemical include Parkinson’s disease, breast cancer as well as damage to the immune, reproductive and nervous systems.
Presently, many countries across the world have banned dieldrin’s use. However, the lethal effects of this substance have been linked to murders in and around the 21st century. An upstate New York gardener who strangled and raped a fourteen-year-old girl was convicted and sent to prison for his crimes, but in repeated appeals he continues to blame exposure to dieldrin as the cause of his episodes of mania and his depraved acts on the young girl.
An episode of Law and Order: SVU, which originally aired in November 2006, contained an interesting plot of adultery to murder in which the killer used dieldrin as the poison.
Dieldrin is a white powder with a mild odor and technical grade dieldrin is a tan powder, neither of which is soluble in water. But the chemical is readily absorbed by inhalation, ingestion or via contact with skin. Much of the chemical is metabolized and eliminated by the human body. A clinically significant portion is stored in fat cells, however, and accumulation in the body creates the toxic effects.
The substance is an extremely stable organic compound and does not break down easily and kills via bioaccumulation—the progressive increase in the amount of toxic substance in an organism that occurs because the rate of intake exceeds the organism’s ability to remove the chemical from the body.
Since dieldrin strongly adheres to soil and resists breakdown, it continues to be an environmental contaminant and enters many lakes, ponds and streams due to soil runoff.
Dieldrin presents an interesting opportunity for fiction writers: from environmental contaminant plots with conflicts against the mega chemical industry to murder mystery plots using old dieldrin found in the storage shed of vintage houses. Research dieldrin, my writer friends, and let your imagination run wild!
Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!