The first English phosphorus necrosis case

In the face of this dreadful jaw condition, doctors remained unfazed. The first recorded case of phosphorus necrosis in England had been under the care of University College Hospital and was described in the Medical Times in 1846. Mr W.C. Wright, the surgeon, gave a detailed account on the patient’s progress and the treatment of this, in his own words, “frightening and disgusting” disease. Having received a “cocktail” of dilute hydrochloric acid, dilute sulphuric acid and etc, the condition of the 30-year-old match worker improved and he was discharged.

Concluding his paper, Mr Wright made a strong statement urging factory legislation in enforcing workplace health and safety, in which match makers should work behind a glazed screen to avoid phosphorus vapour and should be given breaks to obtain fresh air. Mr Wright’s dedication and foresight still command much inspiration and respect even to this day. He believed phosphorus vapour caused jaw necrosis and was aware that the solution was not merely dilute acids, but also to draw public attention and ultimately health and safety legislation. The use of white phosphorus in matches was prohibited by the International Berne Convention in 1906.

  • Wright, W.C. 1846. “Case of Salivation and Diseased Jaw from the Fumes of Phosphorus.” The Medical Times 15 (377) (December): 224–225.
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One Response to The first English phosphorus necrosis case

  1. Louise Raw says:

    This is fascinating, valuable stuff and quite little-known – congrats on the research! Louise Raw (author, ‘Striking a Light: The Bryant & May Matchwonen and their place in History’, Continuum)

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