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I just got a job in a chemical/biological lab (post-Soviet Country). Chemists here receive milk for "harmfulness of the work" (i .e. their work involves working with all kind of substances/reactives). I'm not a chemist; I do their analysis. The tradition of receiving 0.5 liters of milk a day comes all the way from the Soviet Era. I found this question here: Does milk drinking prevent long-term chemical poisoning?

However, I would like to know if milk is not that great for preventing chemical poisoning (as seen from the accepted answer), why is there still such a tradition of giving milk? And why did this tradition appear in the first place? And do people working in chemistry labs in other countries also get milk? (I'm not sure, but I think in UK they do.)

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    $\begingroup$ I guess this question is better suited for History.SE. The chemical part is pretty much covered in the other question you've found. $\endgroup$ – Ivan Neretin Jun 23 '16 at 10:20
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure it belongs to History SE. I would like to know the "reasoning" behind the tradition of giving milk which I guess lies in the structure of milk protein binding with toxic substances. The question in other link shows that milk is pretty weak/does not help in long term exposure however it still was/is used. So there maybe something more to it..ALso I want to know if similar practice exist somewhere else $\endgroup$ – mil' Jun 23 '16 at 10:34
  • $\begingroup$ Reasoning behind the tradition very much belongs to the domain of history. What is a tradition, after all? Something we do the way we do for no good reason, just because we've been doing it for quite a while and got used to it. As usual, there is a grain of truth in the beginning: milk would indeed neutralize some toxins (not all, and not very efficiently). $\endgroup$ – Ivan Neretin Jun 23 '16 at 10:46
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    $\begingroup$ Possible historical explanation: the calcium in milk would help to protect the body from absorbing strontium into the bone structure--this would be a good idea for someone working in a lab with--or otherwise exposed to--the dangerous isotope strontium-90. This isotope was released from above-ground nuclear tests and became a huge concern leading to the limited test ban treaty in 1963. The milk itself would have to be low in strontium-90 to have a beneficial health effect. $\endgroup$ – iad22agp Jun 23 '16 at 11:45
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    $\begingroup$ Not a scientific answer but a personal comment. I was a chemistry student in Spain when graduating (from 1977 to 1982). Not a time in which food was any kind of problem in my country. Yet, after our work at the labs my friends and myself used to drink a glass of cold milk just to calm our stomach of being in an ambient of smelling acids and bases. It just worked! Notice that I live in northern Spain, where people drinks cow milk until the end of our days. Best regards, Dr. Víctor Luaña $\endgroup$ – Víctor Luaña Jun 23 '16 at 18:23
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I know that in India there was a very similar law extant at least back till the 1990's when I had encountered it. Not sure if it is still on the books.

The association with the USSR makes sense: during the cold war a whole bunch of Indian factories were constructed with Soviet aid. And the conventions, technology, etc. came along.

I had heard of several alternative explanations for the milk-law; not sure which (if any) were true. Maybe partly all were.

  1. The Vitamin D or Calcium in milk competing against absorption of Lead or some other nasty element, I forget which the workers were exposed to in chemical factories.
  2. The Milk just contributing to the general health of factory workers in an otherwise grossly malnourished nation (remember, this is cold war era India). Presumably due to the attendant health hazards of chemical factory work, keeping a worker there healthy was more crucial.
  3. Just having the stomach full of a competing innocuous substance (e.g. milk) reduced the propensity of competitive absorption of other nasties in accidents, fugitive exposures etc.
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