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10 Food-Related Tragedies that May Surprise You

6. In Minamata City, Japan,  in 1956, Chisso Corporation’s chemical factory released methylmercury in its industrial wastewater. The poisonous element was carried by the river to marine life and from marine life to humans. It caused severe mercury poisoning in the locals resulting in insanity, paralysis, coma, and death of 1,784 people. The neurological syndrome came to be called the “Chisso-Minamata: disease.”

Minamata Disease
Image credits: Timetoast.com

Also known as the ‘Chisso-Minamata” disease, the Minamata Disease spread when Chisso Corporation released methylmercury in the industrial wastewater from its chemical factory.

Their horrible carelessness led to the local population being affected by this numbing disease for decades. In extreme cases, the Minamata Disease caused insanity, paralysis, coma, and death within weeks of the onset of symptoms.

Over the course of 50 years,  humans, cats, dogs, and pigs continued to be affected by the disease from consuming the contaminated food. Out of the 2,256 victims of the poisoning, 1,784 died.

By 2004, Chisso Corporation had to pay $86 million in compensation and was also ordered to clean up its contamination.  (1, 2)

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7. On January 15, 1919, waves of molasses came pouring down Commercial Street in Boston, MA at a speed of 35 mph after a five-story-tall cylindrical metal tank had burst at the Purity Distilling Company. The crash destroyed buildings, electric poles, and a steel elevated train support beam, killing 21 people and many animals.

The Great Molasses Flood
Image Credit: loc.gov

At the Purity Distilling Company, a 12,000-ton tank containing molasses had burst due to the thermal expansion of the molasses on a hot day.

The company was at fault for not using strong enough containers, causing the metal tank to explode and produce a two-story-tall wave containing 2.3 million gallons of molasses traveling at 35 mph.

Apart from molasses, the tank caused much damage as it formed sharp projectiles and bolts of metal. The company was eventually found guilty and coughed up a million-dollar settlement, not to mention the 87,000 man-hours it took to clear the mess up. The smell lingered for years. (source)

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8. In a case of allergy bullying, a 12-year-old girl’s schoolbook was smeared with peanut butter. After three days of coughing, labored breathing, and wheezing, she was admitted to the emergency department. Her lips turned blue and she felt suffocated on the day of admission and had to undergo physical and psychological treatment.

Peanut Butter Allergy
Images for representational purposes only. Image Credit: Pixabay.com, Pexels.com

Allergy bullying is a form of bullying where the victim is harassed with the product that they are allergic to. It is dangerous with respect to medical consequences, and this case proved exactly that.

The 12-year-old girl whose book was smeared in peanut butter suffered from respiratory problems that included wheezing, coughing, and labored breathing for three days. Then her lips turned blue and she felt suffocated and had to be hospitalized.

To top that, she was harassed for months after the incident with students waving peanut products at her.

The medical team had to advise the school to impart education related to bullying and allergies. A psychologist was consulted to help her cope with the harassment. (source)

9. On January 9, 2015, at a funeral in Mozambique, 75 people died and another 230 got ill after consuming contaminated beer. The deceased were all found to be dead from a common cause. Ten months later in November 2015, authorities determined that all deaths were caused by contaminated beer consumed at a funeral.

When 75 people died inexplicably from an illness and a further 200 were still sick, residents of Mozambique in East Africa knew that something had gone terribly wrong. In the days following the incident, President Armando Guebuza announced three days of national mourning.

Fearing that they were in the clutch of a new disease, they believed the cause to be crocodile bile, which was sold by local practitioners. An article in Forbes magazine rejected this hypothesis and asserted that the real reason was the toxic flowering plant called “foxglove.”

This was the source of the poison, they said. However, ten months later it was determined that the deaths and illnesses were a result of bacterial contamination of the pombe beer and the cornflour used in it. Two toxic compounds, bongkrekic acid and toxoflavin, produced by the bacterium Burkholderia gladioli were found in the beer samples. (1, 2)

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10. On the night of May 2, 1878, a fire destroyed the entire building of the Washburn A Mill. A spark from dry millstones rubbing together ignited the flour dust that hung in the air resulting in a thunderous explosion. All 14 of the night shift workers and four workers from the neighboring mills were killed.

Washburn Mill Explosion
(Right) A photograph altered by an artist to recreate the explosion, (Left) Ruins of mills after explosion Image Credit: Mnopedia.com

It was an incident that changed the way flour mills were built. An ambitious project by Cadwallader Washburn, the Washburn A Mill was constructed in 1874. The structure was the world’s largest mill at the time and also the largest employer in the city of Minneapolis with more than 200 workers.

On May 2, 1878, an hour after the end of the day shift, the mill burst into a fireball followed by a series of explosions that was heard some ten miles away.  A spark from dry millstones rubbing together had ignited the flour dust that hung in the air.

Flour particles that permeated the building rapidly caught fire, building pressure by releasing expansive gasses. This eventually snowballed into the thunderous explosions.

Within minutes, it engulfed the neighboring mills, Diamond and Humboldt. Eighteen workers were killed; 14 from the Washburn Crosby Mill and four from Diamond and Humboldt.

Washburn himself made safety improvements thereafter, and many modern mills started using explosion-proof motors. (source)

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