Microscopists, health, and war against narcotics and terrorism
by Walter Dioni, Cancun, Mexico
For just over ten years the social situation (drug use, manufacture of explosives) and some medical research (mercury toxicity, carcinogenicity of formaldehyde, toxicity of various histological stains) instigated the installation of restrictive measures on the sale of certain chemicals, and the absolute prohibition of others. The vast majority (and this is no exaggeration) of the products that were used over a century in the preparation of the best anaesthetics, fixers, clearing agents, inclusion media, and dyes, were banned.
Because of the acquisition of a generous list of reagents for his personal laboratory, an English amateur was arrested, and his house raided, before he convinced the authorities of his real intention. (Reported in Micscape 2009.)
Only professionals, through their research institutions, have access to some of the items restricted, and, if available through Chemical Supply Houses, they only sell quantities which take several lifetimes of an average amateur to use, and often at exorbitant prices.
we have tried to compile and propose non toxic alternatives to prepare
some fixatives, dyes, and mounting media, at the amateur level, with
products that can be reached with just a bit of patience and
insistence at the open-counter drug stores.
A recent review of the French Forum 'Mikroscopia' showed to me that the hunting of potential chemical terrorists is not over. The reagent copper sulfate is now banned in France. It is a product that is sold in Mexico in normal drugstores in 5-gram packets for domestic preparation of fungicides and bactericides solutions, not only for veterinary, or agricultural use, but, quite simply, for human use.
CuSO4 is the undisputed 'hero' of fixatives for plants, and algae and microalgae, in which we want to preserve the green color of chlorophyll. No other reagent has been proposed for this task.
The Lactocupric fixative which produced the material with which I created most of the slides illustrated in the article published in this same edition of MICSCAPE, could be listed now as a “toxic fixative”. The precious Cupro-Acetic fixative advocated by Deflandre* (with 2 tenths of one percent of copper nitrate, and copper chloride) would be in the same bag. Because the criminal is not the sulfate, of course, but copper, a heavy metal.*Deflandre, "Microscopie Pratique".
As was the case with the mercuric bichloride, there is copper all around us, not only in fixatives (there are a dozen fixatives based on copper, some of them suggested as replacements of former mercuric fixatives) but simply in all the wires and many pieces that make operatives our computers and allow the illumination of our houses.
Totally banned ten years ago (with good reason), mercury, which we still ingest significant quantities of it at any time we take a meal of the “healthy fishes” recommended by dietitians because of its high content of Omega 3 acids. And this of course is not included in the published “nutrients facts”.
Even in the first of my articles on Non Toxic Fixative for Amateurs, when compiling the list of carcinogenic products, I noted the exaggeration that this represents. Faced with the indiscriminate build-up of toxics in the environment in which we live and act, from gaseous derivatives of burned gasoline invading the citizen’s atmosphere; the toxics leaked by plastics indiscriminately used in the packaging and preservation of food; the dyes used to embellish “natural foods”; the ingredients and preservatives of packaged and canned products, sold by supermarkets; the ingredients in many beauty products; the solvents in paints that decorate our homes; or detergents with which we attack massively the environment (and the list goes on) the exposure that a careful amateur experiences from reagents are on an absolutely insignificant scale.
Including formaldehyde, which in Mexico we can buy over the counter, if used with proper precautions, probably causes less cancer than those toxic hydrocarbons that expel the much TV advertised cars, whose gasoline consumption has enriched a handful of bankers and industrialists, without a ban that corrects these harmful activities.
to mention the fall-out of radioactive substances, that have been
released by others into the atmosphere, and that we must endure,
without any defense.
Thousands of microscopists have used for decades indiscriminately formaldehyde-based fixatives, without yielding or suffering from cancer. (The AFA - alcohol-formalin-acetic acid - has a smell that was always attractive for me. I never used it without inhaling a little by the mouth of the flask before using it. It is not a reasonable action to be imitated, my only excuse is that I had no awareness of the danger, but I did it from my 20 years. At 83 I have no cancer, the “Russian roulette” respected me.)
And which is a toxic chemical?
This is the MSDS data for copper sulfate
SECTION V. HEALTH AND HAZARD INFORMATION
Toxic orally in accordance with FHSLA regulations. Acute oral LD50 (male rats) = 472 mg/kg.
Non-toxic. Skin irritation index is zero in accordance with FHSLA regulations.
Corrosive in accordance with FHSLA regulations. Eye irritation score: 24 hours = 41.67; 48 hours = corrosive
Inhalation of dust may cause irritation to the upper respiration tract.
None as per NTP, OSHA, and IARC.
If you are very concerned about copper sulfate, wear protective glasses when you manipulate it. I am sure that you won’t confuse your beautifully blue CuSO4 solution with a Coca-cola or with a glass of Cabernet.
And these are the warnings in the leaflet that accompanies one of the medicines my cardiologist has recommended to me and which I take regularly all days of my life from two years ago
WARNING: This medication infrequently produces very serious, new irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias). Therefore, it should be used in carefully selected patients to treat life-threatening irregular heartbeats only. Consult your doctor or pharmacist for more information.
SIDE EFFECTS: Nausea, vomiting, heartburn, gas, loss of appetite, stomach cramps, dizziness, drowsiness, headache, weakness or changes in sleep habits, may occur as your body adjusts to the medicine. Other side effects include muscle aches, sweating, dry mouth, tremors and unusual taste in the mouth. If any of these symptoms continue or become bothersome, inform your doctor. Notify your doctor promptly if you develop: chest pain, blurred vision, unusual bleeding or bruising, skin rash, chills. Tell your doctor immediately if any of these unlikely but serious side effects occur: signs of infection (e.g., fever, persistent sore throat), sudden weight gain, swelling of the ankles/feet, trouble breathing, unusually fast/slow/irregular heartbeat. If you notice other effects not listed above, contact your doctor or pharmacist.
And these are the possible adverse reactions against a favorite of amateur microscopists that use polarized illumination: the acetyl-salycilic acid (Aspirin)
Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, epigastric pain, gastritis, exacerbation of peptic ulcer, gastric bleeding, rash, urticaria, petechiae, dizziness, tinnitus. Prolonged use and excessive doses may predispose to nephrotoxicity. It can induce bronchospasm in patients with asthma, allergies and nasal polyps.
legal situation is different in each country, as I explain in terms
of formalin and copper sulfate. And this makes our situation more
complicated as a cultural and social group. When
I proposed the use of Listerine as a substitute for antiseptics (contains phenol), Gordon Couger pointed out to me that he
still could get phenol in the USA, which was really very difficult to
obtain in Mexico.
The situation is similar even in neighbouring cities. In Durango I could get 96% ethyl alcohol, including at street stores, and due to the existence of several tanneries around the city, were sold freely dichromate and chromium oxides, and other chemicals theoretically "restricted." In the old pharmacies of the city I could find eosin and methylene blue by the gram. But in Cancun I only get 96% alcohol in one major pharmacy alone, and retail stores do not sell any useful chemical or dye.
Even isopropyl alcohol. considered the more common and easier to locate reagent and cheap in other countries, it is almost impossible to find here, except as an expensive (because of those who decided to pack it) computer cleaning product.
think it is time that (as with much worse intentions have done
drug addicts and other vermin) amateur microscopists with sufficient
knowledge of chemistry (and of market products) form an
interdisciplinary virtual group to help the less able, and to teach
ways of extracting from
products in the marketplace, or to manufacture them in small personal
laboratories, small quantities of the products that we sometimes need
in so little quantities for our peaceful and recreational
For example, with respect to copper, on the net I found instructions for making copper acetate and copper chloride, which should be adapted for our use. And recently Cavanihac (JMC for amateur microscopists) has shown at the Mikroscopia Forum how to make the tenths of a gram of copper sulphate needed to prepare the "CuproAcetic” reagent.
Yvan Lindekens has shown on MICSCAPE that it is not impossible, for anyone
who has access to wood chips of Hematoxylon
which are sold for textile crafts, to really prepare hematoxylin an
almost essential dye for histological sections.
In a similar vein (substitution of these reagents impossible or difficult to obtain) the Cuban doctors who are affected by the U.S. blockade, have been able to design an effective method of staining blood smears, which allows interpretations almost equivalent to those provided by specific colorants for smears of blood, as the mixtures of Giemsa or Wright. If used for clinical diagnostics, it is obviously a useful method for amateurs. And the price difference is huge.
I dare not predict the future. I have some skepticism about the supportive answers of amateur microscopists. I have not heard of anyone having done a complete study of a rotifer (as I proposed in my article) which could be put forward for the consideration of a specialist. **
But there are many who like chemistry experiments (responsibly of course, and properly guided when appropriate) and may have a small personal laboratory. It is only needed that if they get a reasonable result, publish it, to relieve pressure from those who want to accomplish comprehensive microscopy, but did not get supplies.
** In this respect the work of Michel Verolet's is exemplary, which has already been made known to science, and published or being published, two new species of Monogononta. And it is not me who convinced him of course.
Comments to the author will be welcomed.
Microscopy UK Front
Published in the June 2010 edition of Micscape Magazine.
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