Meth mouth and the Matchgirls strike

Is Meth Mouth, a new plague? Maybe not. It sounds like Phossy Jaw, a grotesque malady common among the workers in matchbook factories in the late 1800’s. It was caused by the phosphorus used in matches. Phosphorus is also used in making meth.

Meth mouth

Michelle Lee Scoggins got tired of looking in the mirror at her dead brown teeth. Loaded on methamphetamine, she reached for a flathead screwdriver and pliers and started pulling them out herself.

Scoggins has what dentists have come to call “meth mouth,” a condition caused by longtime meth use. Teeth turn brown and shrivel and either fall out or break off.

Here’s the meth/phosphorus link

Other dentists said they suspected that the caustic ingredients of the drug – whether smoked, injected, snorted or eaten – contributed to the damage, which tends to start near the gums and wander to the edges of teeth. Among ingredients that can be used to make meth are red phosphorus found in the strips on boxes of matches.

Meth labs are incredibly toxic, from the “Clandestine Methamphetamine Laboratories Information and Fact Sheet”

The unique lab dangers of a Red Phsophorus Lab: Phosphine gas production, and the conversion of red phosphorus to white phosphorus.

Phossy Jaw

Phossy-jaw is a deadly occupational hazard for those who work with white phosphorus in an environment without proper safeguards. It was most commonly seen in workers in the match industry in the 19th and early 20th century.

The Matchgirls strike

The owners of the companies pretended their workers were healthy, when they knew they were suffering and dying because of the phosphorus. It was only when a coalition of Socialists and religious groups mobilized that legislative action finally forced the owners to stop poisoning their workers.

In 1888, Henri Hyde Champion joined with Annie Besant and a socialist journal, The Link, helped the Matchgirls Union to win over the Bryant & May company. And on 23rd June, Annie published “White Slavery in London” in The Link. The article drew attention to the dangers of phosphorus fumes and complained about the low wages paid to the women who worked at Bryant and May.

“Who cares if they die or go on to the streets provided only that Bryant & May shareholders get their 23 per cent.”

Sound familiar? Corporate greed was destroying lives as they pursued profits in the 1880’s in Britain too. And what was the response from the government?

In spite of the public opinion on the girls’ side (phosphorous was illegal in Sweden and the USA), and the fact that many people stopped buying Bryant & May matches; the British government had refused to follow their example, arguing that it would alter free trade.

Lordy, don’t make any company give up profits just because their system of manfacturing is killing and maiming their employees!

However –

On 21st July Bryant & May agreed to the requirements of the match girls. The strike stopped and for the first time an unskilled workers’ union had triumphed in picketing for increased pay and better working conditions. And more than everything, it successfully helped to the formation of unions all over the country.

From little acorns, mighty oaks grow!

PS Some modern medications like Fosamax, Aredia and Zometa, apparently contain phosphorus too. Check USA Today for more.