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19th Century occupational hazard of the match industry.

Phossy is short for phosphorus, as in the white phosphurus used to create the striking tip of early matches. Exceptionally toxic, anybody working in close proximity to it suffered probably the most hideous occupational disease ever known. Direct contact with the phosphurus paste was a remarkably bad idea and, naturally, those that had the job of dipping the sticks into the paste were the most quickly affected. However, the poor ventilation in the factories ensured that the resulting vapours gave everybody in the production process their fair share of exposure.

Targetting mainly the lower jaw, the condition began with toothache and swelling around the gums that would slowly develop into abscesses together with a fetid, pussy discharge. The jaw bones would literally glow a greenish-white colour in the dark and would eventually rot away to nothing, leaving the victim with the option of enduring a painful and disfiguring operation to have the affected areas removed. While the disease would slowly develop over several years, if untreated the final phase lasted six to eighteen months, bringing with it inflammation of the brain, convulsions and hemorrhage from the lungs.

In the UK, The Salvation Army spent years campaigning on behalf of the downtrodden match-makers and eventually set up a factory to produce their own matches tipped with harmless red phosphurus, with the name 'Lights in Darkest England' . The use of white phosphorus was outlawed worldwide in 1912 and the condition was eliminated in one fell swoop.

sources:
http://www.osh.dol.govt.nz/kidz/gore/jphossy.html
http://www.rootsweb.com/~belghist/Flanders/Pages/phossy.htm
http://www.bobbins.org/d/20020125.html

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