Welcome to the Cluttered Desk College (CDC), previously known as Farcical University (FU) (Let's face it, the initials just didn't go the distance, and were apparently misconstrued). The Cluttered Desk College (CDC) is an institute of higher learning where we endeavor to enlighten and amaze. There just are no credits, and no degree, as the learning never stops.
And in many cases it never begins. It is still my blog, after all.
Today's lecture concerns the establishment of the study of Occupational Disease (OD). Notably, we will take an in depth look at the first ever fully recognized and documented OD, a condition originally referred to as Soot-Wart. It was also known as Chimneysweep's Scrotum, but there was no way I was writing that I was going to take an in depth look at the Chimneysweep's Scrotum.
That is how ugly rumors get started.
It turns out that the job of chimneysweep in Victorian era London was not that pleasant overall. They were required to physically shimmy down chimneys and tight shafts. Sometimes, the space was so tight that they had to take off all their clothes to reach into the most nominal of “soot-filled crawlspaces and flues”. I've heard of dragging a ball and chain on the job, but that is ridiculous.
Unbeknownst to the common Chimneysweep of the era, or to anyone for that matter, was that soot contained carcinogens, or at least would contain carcinogens once we invented the word carcinogen. Anyhoo, the carcinogenic soot continually rubbing against the most delicate areas of the Chimneysweep's skin, combined with the poor (as in non-existent) sanitation practices of the day, created a condition known as Soot-wart, or Chimneysweeps Scrotum.
Soot-wart is a squamous cell carcinoma affecting, as previously noted, Mister Scrotum. The cause of the condition was first determined in 1775 by Doctor Percivall Pott, who made the connection between chimney sweeping and scrotal cancer. He made the affiliation that it affected men, most in their late teens and early twenties, who as chimneysweeps had been in contact with soot since early childhood. According to Wikipedia, the official text book of the Cluttered Desk College (CDC), “It was proposed [at the time] that sweat running down their bodies had caused soot to accumulate in the rugae of the inferior surfaces of the scrotum. Warts caused by the irritation from soot particles, if not excised, developed into a scrotal cancer. This then invaded the dartos, enlarged the testicle and proceeded up the spermatic cord into the abdomen where it proved fatal. Irritation was discounted when it was experimentally shown in 1922 that an ingredient of coal soot was a carcinogen.”
See, I told you we had to first invent the word “carcinogen”.
Symptoms started as scrotum warts. Many Chimneysweeps removed these warts by squeezing them between two pieces of wood and “popping them off with knives or razors”. Apparently they were in a jurisdiction where they could, unfortunately, direct their own medical care. This did not, alas, solve the problem for them, as this just turned the spot into a smelly sore, which sometimes spread to the thighs or anus. Common treatment from Doctors of the day would be to “either prescribe arsenic paste to slough the sores off, or operate and remove swaths of scrotum”.
And you thought your new government approved health plan sucked.
Unfortunately, due to the era in which this condition became common, it was most often fatal for the men who developed it. They simply did not have the knowledge or financial wherewithal to seek help early enough, and workers' compensation wouldn't be invented by the Germans for another 150 years; ironically about the same length of time it now takes to pass through California's new IMR process.
This concludes today's lecture. You now know everything you will ever need to know about the first malady ever identified as an occupational disease. In fact, I would guess that, for most of you, you now know more than you could ever possibly want to know about the first malady ever identified as an occupational disease. Nevertheless, my job here is done. The CDC will return from time to time to further enlighten you on other odd and mysterious conditions often related to our workaday world. Or you could just read the source story to know what we will eventually talk about, but what fun is that?
Go forth and inform the world about what you now know. When they asked you where you learned it, just tell them that you heard it from the CDC.
For some reason I like the sound of that.