When Professors Strike – And Don’t Know What They Are Talking About

When Professors Strike – And Don’t Know What They Are Talking About

This story came across the wire today. Anything having to do with mercury poisoning gets my attention. I haven’t heard this particular podcast but it seems to draw a lot of unfounded conclusions regarding the bizarre behavior of an obscure clockmaker. What got my attention was the quote attributed to a Clinical Professor of Environmental Public Health Sciences at NYU – soon to be my daughter’s alma mater. Dr. Jack Caravanos is quoted as saying: “Dr Caravanos added that even if John were still alive, there’s no test a neurologist can do to for mercury poisoning and, once poisoned ‘there’s no real treatment because your nerves are already damaged’.” Huh? What about mercury levels? Toxicologists test all kinds of body parts for elevated mercury levels. Everything from non-invasive testing (urine, hair and nails) to invasive testing of blood and CSF (cerebrospinal fluid). There are also nerve biopsies and other tests that can be done to establish a diagnosis. I had my own hair tested during my field work at Minamata Bay, Japan!  The statement that there is no real treatment is open to debate and highly individualized. Treatment consists of chelation with a variety of substances including DMPS and DMSA but other substances have been used including penicillamine and British anti-Lewisite with disappointing results. There are all sorts of nuances to the poisoning depending on the species of mercury involved and the chronicity of the dose, etc… but I don’t know what Dr. Caravanos is talking about.  He has clearly never treated a mercury poisoned patient – I have to wonder if he has ever actually seen a mercury poisoned patient.

Here is a recent scientific article on the diagnosis and treatment of mercury poisoning:


Here are pictures of me and Mrs. Dr. PoisonBoy having our hair tested for mercury in the Minamata Municipal Museum 

Written by Poison Boy

Gerry O'Malley (a.k.a Poison Boy) is a board certified ER doctor and toxicologist with a interest in the unusual, terrifying and occasionally hilarious world of poisonings and toxicology. This site is an exploration of poisons of historical interest as well as in current events and pop culture.

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