Hugh Pickens writes: "Pulitzer Prize–winning science journalist Deborah Blum has an interesting article in Slate about the US government's little known policy to scare people into giving up illicit drinking during prohibition in the 1920's by poisoning industrial alcohols manufactured in the United States. Known as the "chemist's war of Prohibition," the federal poisoning program, by some estimates, killed at least 10,000 people by the time Prohibition ended in 1933. The story begins with ratification of the 18th Amendment, which banned sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages in the United States after high-minded crusaders and anti-alcohol organizations helped push the amendment through in 1919. When the government saw that its “noble experiment” was in danger of failing, it decided that the problem was that methyl alcohol, readily available as industrial alcohol, didn't taste nasty enough and put its chemists to work designing ever more unpalatable toxins adding such chemicals as kerosene, brucine (a plant alkaloid closely related to strychnine), gasoline, benzene, cadmium, iodine, zinc, mercury salts, nicotine, ether, formaldehyde, chloroform, camphor, carbolic acid, quinine, and acetone. In 1926, in New York City, 1,200 were sickened by poisonous alcohol; 400 died. The following year, deaths climbed to 700. These numbers were repeated in cities around the country as public-health officials nationwide joined in the angry clamor to stop the poisoning program but an official sense of higher purpose kept it in place while lawmakers opposed to the plan were accused of being in cahoots with criminals and that bootleggers and their law-breaking alcoholic customers deserved no sympathy. As one of its most outspoken opponents, Charles Norris, the chief medical examiner of New York City during the 1920s, liked to say, it was "our national experiment in extermination.""
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