New results obtained from arsenic speciation analysis of hair samples derived from Napoleon Bonaparte are supporting the arsenic poisoning theory.
While it has
been demonstrated already during the early 60`s by various analytical
procedures (such as NAA) that high concentrations of arsenic were
present in Napoleon`s hair, some authors challenged these results by
indicating that the detected levels might be a result of external
contamination. Different sources for external contamination were
speculated including wallpaper, coal smoke, arsenic-containing
cosmetics, or by arsenic used to preserve hair samples. Due to the
geographical location of Saint Helena
in the middle of the sea, it also
has been speculated that arsenic in Napoleon's hair could be a result
of seafood intake.
To continue active investigations, the ChemTox Laboratory at Illkirch
France was requested by Dr. Ben Weider
, President of the International
(Montreal, Canada) to test two hair specimens
derived from Napoleon for arsenic. New results
strands of hair, referenced as Noverraz (cut on 6 May 1821) and Grand
Maréchal Bertrand (cut on 6 May 1821.) were decontaminated from
external arsenic by washing with acetone and then incubated 6 h in
water at 90 °C. Arsenic speciation was carried out by HPLC–ICP/MS
using a cation-exchange PRP-X200 column that allows the detection of
arsenobetaine and an anion-exchange PRP-X100 column to test for the
The HPLC system was from SpectraSYSTEM (Thermo), consisting of a AS3000 autosampler
and a P1000XR + SCM1000 pump. The column outlet in both cases was
connected to the nebulizer of the ICP-MS (Thermo Electron X7).
these conditions, the inorganic species As(III), As(V) and their
metabolites (DMA and MMA) were separated. Analysis of hair samples
highlighted massive amounts of total arsenic (42.1 and 37.4 ng/mg).
species found in the two samples of analyzed hair are distributed in
the following: As(III) 31.1 and 44.7%; As(V) 66.3 and 53.2%; DMA 0.42
and 0.15%. Traces of MMA were detected, and 2% of the species could not
Although arsenobetaine is poorly incorporated
in hair, the absence of even traces of arsenobetaine indicates that
seafood cannot account for the arsenic detected in Napoleon's hair.
These results prove that more than 97% of the arsenic found in the hair
of Napoleon is in inorganic form, which is consistent with a chronic
intoxication by the most toxic inorganic arsenic species. The original study
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, J. Anal. At. Spectrom., 22/2 (2007) 131-139. DOI: 10.1039/b608064m Related information Wikipedia: Napoleon Bonaparte Wikipedia: Arsenic poisoning Wikipedia: Saint Helena International Napoleonic Society: The assassination of Napoleon International Napoleonic Society: The poisoning of Napoleon: The final proof Napoleon Org: Arsenic and the Emperor CrimeLibrary: The death of Napoleon, murder or natural causes ? King James Medical Laboratory: Frequently Asked Question Regarding the Analysis of Metals in Hair Specimens CDC/ATSDR: Hair Analysis: Exploring the State of the Science EVISA:
LC-ICP-MS: The most often used hyphenated system for speciation analysis Related News ABC News in science, June 6, 2001: Napoleon poisoning theory revived NewScientistTech, October 29, 2002: Hair analysis clears Napoleon's 'poisoners' Toxipedia. Napoleon's Death by Arsenic Exposure...? Bryan Allison, Spring 2002: Cause of death: The mystery surrounding the death of Napoleon
last time modified: November 12, 2007