#3. The Worldwide Love of Jeans Dyes China Blue
Ciaran Griffin/Stockbyte/Getty Images
The market for denim is absurd -- in 2006, over $15 billion was spent on jeans alone, and that's not even factoring in jackets, skirts, accessories, or acid wash (which, while technically just a style of jeans, presumably occupies its own wedge on the pie chart). Like many commodities, denim production is outsourced to China -- specifically Xintang, which makes around 200 million pairs of jeans every year. And the combination of bleach and indigo dye used in the manufacturing process is poisoning the ballshits out of China's Pearl River, a 1,500-mile waterway that supplies drinking water to over 12 million people in Guangzhou.
Imaginechina via AP Images
Blue water is normally a good thing. Unless it looks like this, in which case it is a bad thing.
You see, the waste runoff from denim factories contains heavy metals such as lead, mercury, cadmium, and selenium. Each one of those things is either a neurotoxin or a carcinogen on its own, but when piled together in a boiling stream of Smurf Piss, they essentially become a stew of brain-detonating cancer juice.
"You're welcome." -Levi Strauss
Chinese officials insist that there haven't been any reports of widespread illnesses from any of the countless population centers that depend on the Pearl River system for fishing, transportation, or drinking water, but churning out what is literally toxic waste into a major water system and dying it an unnatural blue that can be seen from space cannot possibly be a good thing.
#2. The Romans' Love of Sugary Syrup Gives Them All Lead Poisoning
Food back in the day was horribly bland, but the ancient Romans discovered that if they took a bunch of fruit and boiled all the water out of it, they would be left with a really sweet syrup called defrutum, which sounds like a German fable about flesh-eating apple trees but is essentially just a sugar reduction. They put defrutum in everything, from meat to cheese to wine, and even used it as a preservative. Kind of like what we do with high fructose corn syrup now.
Judging by this article, there's no possible way for this to backfire on us.
The problem, however, wasn't rampant obesity, but that defrutum was made exclusively in lead pots and pans, because bronze or copper pots would taint the batch and make it taste like loose change on the floor of a taxicab. Modern re-creations of the fruit-boiling defrutum recipe, using the same type of lead cookware, created a substance containing more than 1,000 times the acceptable dose of lead. Meaning the majority of Rome was almost certainly suffering from chronic lead poisoning as a result of their defrutum addiction.
Lead poisoning has a number of effects, including weight loss, anemia, irritability, and delirium, so historians have started to make the connection that the widespread use of defrutum may have been the cause of some of the famed craziness and bizarre indulgences of certain Roman emperors. It seems particularly more likely when you consider that the emperor, of all people, would certainly be one to douse his flavorless lunch of goat-hoof porridge and chicken brains with the tangy sweet nectar of the gods and then wash it down with goblets of defrutum-laced wine.
"Hmmm ... fruity, with a mild undercurrent of psychosis."
What makes this situation even more ridiculous is that the Romans seemed to be completely aware that consuming too much lead could turn you into a gibbering weakling, shouting obscenities at ghosts and wearing a toga soaked in farts and confusion. However, by all accounts, they simply didn't give a shit (see arsenic, above).
#1. The Demand for Rubber Bike Tires Leads to Genocide in the Congo
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In the 1890s, bicycling fever reached epidemic levels in Europe and America, because the 19th century kind of sucked and people were ready to dive headfirst into whatever frivolity they could find. In the U.S., there was one bike for every seven Americans, and by 1895 cycling was so popular that the New York Times felt fully confident suggesting that anyone who didn't own a bicycle was either a cripple or hopelessly square.
Charles Hewitt/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
"Why, if you don't cotton to the bicycle, then you're crackers, fella! Crackers!"
One cause for the surge in bike ownership was the invention of inflatable tires. Bikes had previously used wooden or metal wheels, and riding one of those would've been like piloting an El Camino down a brick-paved road on nothing but four bent, tarnished rims. But inflatable tires made bicycles awesome, and people bought them by the millions. So where do you get rubber for all those bike tires? By enslaving an African nation and making them harvest it for you, of course.
"Just once could white people try the non-slavery option?"
You see, King Leopold II of Belgium ruled over the Congo at the time, and used it primarily as a source for exporting ivory and rubber. And he was more than happy to meet the increasing demand for bicycle tires (and, later, automobile tires) by imposing strict rubber quotas on the Congolese people. If a village didn't produce a sufficient amount of rubber, Leopold would burn the village down, kill all their children, or cut off the workers' hands (or sometimes all three, because why the hell not).
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
It would remain Belgium's worst human rights crime until Jean-Claude Van Damme.
One former Belgian official went on record saying, "Everywhere I hear the same news of the Congo Free State -- rubber and murder, slavery in its worst form." Slavery was technically illegal in most parts of the world at the time, but Leopold kept the Congo so isolated (more so than it already was) by completely controlling all of the trade routes, essentially turning the entire area into one giant unregulated factory. During the golden age of cycling, the number of bicycles in the U.S. increased by over 10 million, and the population of the Congo decreased by nearly 10 million. It doesn't take a statistics professor to point out that these two figures are almost certainly related and not just a staggering coincidence.
Jack is a moderator in the Cracked Comedy Workshop, email him at email@example.com. When Paige Turner isn't writing about dicks on the Internet, she's ... writing about dicks elsewhere. Because everybody needs a hobby.
For more fads folks should've reconsidered, check out 6 Popular Fashion Trends (That Killed People) and 6 Weird Fashions From History (With Weirder Explanations).
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 3 Real Things We're Pretty Sure Are Cursed.
And stop by LinkSTORM because it's time to get over the hump like a badass.
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