Raleigh Police Suspect Arsenic Poisoning Responsible For Death Of Doctor
Posted February 21, 2002 1:35 a.m. EST
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Investigators suspect Eric Miller, a scientist at UNC's Lineberger Cancer Center, may have died in a rare case of arsenic poisoning.
Raleigh police searched his home at 800 Shady Maple Court over the weekend looking for clues into the death. Miller died at Rex Hospital early Saturday morning. Investigators suspect arsenic poisoning was the cause.
Dr. Woodhall Stopford, a leading toxicologist at Duke University, says arsenic poisoning is rare.
At most, I can think of two cases in 30 odd years as a clinician," he says.
Arsenic used to be found in some pesticides and herbicides. It can still be found in rat poison.
"In small amounts, you wouldn't know you were being poisoned, you're chronically ill," Stopford says. "Often you have symptoms of a cold, sneezing, swelling around your eyelids. It lingers on and on and on. You just don't get better."
After a period of time, arsenic can destroy the body's vital organs and cause death.
"As you get at higher and higher levels, it acts as a poison. It poisons all tissues in the body," he says.
Dr. Stopford says there have been instances where arsenic has contaminated someone's water supply, but this is rare in the United States. As a result, arsenic poisoning is more often deliberate than accidental.
Under state law, hospitals must report any arsenic poisoning to the police.