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Toxic Phlebotinum

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Her warranty doesn't cover that.

"Unfortunately, the device that's keeping you alive is also killing you."
JARVIS, Iron Man 2

You've got a nice form of Applied Phlebotinum, and it's pretty powerful. But sometimes it's just not enough. You need more power. So what do you do?

Fortunately, you've somehow stumbled upon a shiny new Power Source, stronger and easier to use than your current model. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Quite a bit, actually. See, your "new-and-improved" power source isn't near as safe as your old one. Sure, it'll get you the power you need, but at a very high price. Explosions, crippling injury, and sometimes even mutations can result if you overuse it. Better hope you can finish the job quickly (or have Phlebotinum-Handling Equipment) or Zorlak the Planet Wedgier will be the least of your health concerns.

Unlike most dangerous forms of Applied Phlebotinum, this one is more likely to be used by the heroes, probably because unlike most other forms, this type's danger lies not in corruption but in simple explosions which would endanger the user more than the environment, making the risk heroic.


One of a number of Toxic Tropes. Related to Toxic Waste Can Do Anything. See also Psycho Serum. Sometimes overlaps with Sentient Phlebotinum, in which case it's liable to become The Corruption or The Virus. Contrast Saved by the Phlebotinum.

No Real Life Examples, Please!


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Inverted in GaoGaiGar FINAL. The villains' power source is the "Loud G-Stone", which has a constant power output which is higher than the G-Stones the heroes are using. Of course, the Loud G-Stone isn't powered by courage. Sure enough, Guy's G-Stone power goes through the roof when he gets pissed off enough, and the rest of the robots follow suit. The Sol 11's "non-toxic" Loud G-Stones can't keep up. Guy points this out in his heroic Breaking Lecture: "Everything is because you were afraid! Afraid the G-Stone's power would transcend the Loud G-Stone! The power born from courage!"
  • In Buso Renkin, it is revealed that Kazuki's Kakugane is actually an unstable black version. The Black Kakugane (which had replaced his heart) causes his body to transform and grants him enormous power as a result. Unfortunately, being in this transformed state causes him to drain the life force of everyone and everything around him nonstop, and while the transformed state can be suppressed at first, it eventually becomes permanent.
  • Sakuradite from Code Geass is this, basically. Rumored to be the Philosopher's Stone of old, significant amounts of it were found in Japan (duh) under Mount Fuji. While not used as a power source per se, the primarily electricity-based alternate world that Code Geass universe is based in (as opposed to steam and fossil-fuel based) makes Sakuradite very valuable as a room-to-high temperature superconductor. It is basically the phlebotinum that makes Game Breakers such as the Lancelot Knightmare Frame. The "toxic" part comes in that Sakuradite, especially in liquid form, is very volatile. How volatile? Volatile enough to make it viable as a booster in a nuke-slash-antimatter bomb.
  • The imperfect philosopher's stones and red water they're made from in Fullmetal Alchemist, which are extremely poisonous in and of themselves, and have an increased risk of alchemical rebound.
  • The prototype GN Tau drives in Mobile Suit Gundam 00 have power only slightly below that of the "true" GN drives but their crimson red particles cause cellular abnormalities in humans that prevent tissue regeneration (just look at what happened to poor Louise) and eventually kill the subject (almost happened to Lasse and maybe Graham) in exchange for being far faster and easier to mass-produce. The final mass-production version fixes this issue which also incidentally changes the particles' color to orange.
  • The Symphogear system is very hard on untuned users; without a high natural compatibility, maintaining the transformation causes intense pain and internal damage that can easily land the user in the hospital. Those with lower compatibility can boost it with an injection of Linker, but early versions of the formula were toxic enough to slowly kill the user. These two collide horribly for Kanade in the prologue, where the output boost from her Swan Song causes her to completely disintegrate.

    Comic Books 
  • Starting with Post-Crisis version of The DCU, Lex Luthor was able to harness kryptonite in a variety of means of bedeviling Superman. Unfortunately, Luthor learns the hard way that kryptonite radiation is also harmful to humans with sufficient exposure.
  • In the Marvel Universe, attempts to weaponize adamantium in Super Soldiers met problems because adamantium is toxic. One of their first successful subjects was Wolverine, who had a Healing Factor that kept the adamantium from killing him. The tradeoff for him is that his Healing Factor lost some of its potency.
  • In the Iron Man online Infinite Comics story "Fatal Frontier", the discovery of phlogistone, moonrocks that gained special powers after being exposed to various kinds of Phlebotinum (the Power Infinite, the Phoenix Force, etc.) kicks off a wave of colonization and industry on the moon. Tony eventually finds evidence that phlogistone also corrupts souls. After discovering this Tony puts all of his efforts into keeping phlogistone out of anyone's hands while looking for a way to depower it.
  • In Forever Evil (2013), Power Ring's Ring of Power is taking over his body. The ring seems to be growing into his finger and there are prominent green veins protruding from his arm to his neck. He is very concerned about this and wants to get the ring off as soon as possible.
  • Ore-13, aka Ultra Energon from the Transformers IDW comics. It greatly enhances a Transformers' abilities, but burns out very quickly and leaves the user in a very vulnerable state.
  • In Spider-Gwen, the Lizard serum Peter Parker created to become the Lizard has toxic side effects. Staying in Lizard form for too long will kill you. This is how Peter died. Gwen toying with him during their fight as opposed to beating him as quickly as possible caused him to stay in Lizard form long enough that even reverting to human form didn't save him.

    Fan Works 
  • In Origins, a Mass Effect/Star Wars/Borderlands/Halo Massive Multiplayer Crossover, Eridium hits this trope on the head. Its gas form is extremely corrosive but does well for powering certain individuals and killing off almost any organic matter that it touches like Flood. Slag, the byproduct from mining/refining Eridium, is also hostile to life but makes excellent coolant for Faster-Than-Light Travel or other high-heat applications.
  • Cycles Upon Cycles: Element Zero. As Kerrigan found out while assimilating the Krogan, Element Zero exposure all but wipes out the victim's psionics, with the bare scraps left over interacting with the eezo to make biotics. As soon as this was discovered, the Koprulu Alliance immediately banned all eezo from being brought into their territories and are systematically eradicating any sources of the substance already present.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Iron Man 2: The palladium components of Tony's chest-mounted arc reactor decay over time and emit toxins into his blood, slowly killing him. At least, until he perfects the technology using a hidden schematic from his dead father to make a new atomic element to replace the Palladium. An inversion, since it's the original reactor that is killing him, and the shiny new one that is actually safe.
  • In Ant-Man, exposure to Pym Particles without proper protection (like the Ant-Man helmet) can affect the mind, and exposure to them through the course of his experiments is implied to be part of the reason Cross is so nuts, especially after he starts using the Yellowjacket suit.
  • In Spider-Man: Homecoming, Adrian Toomes uses Chitauri power cores salvaged from the Battle of New York to manufacture deadly energy weapons. Exposure to certain forms of radiation causes the cores to explode. This almost results in Toomes's death as a result of the arc reactor cores he tried to steal emitting radiation that made his flight suit's power core unstable.
  • The black liquid from Prometheus, officially dubbed Chemical A0-3959X.91–15, transforms animals exposed to it into Xenomorph-like creatures - and was most likely involved in the production of the first Xenomorphs - and if ingested causes complete disintegration at a genetic level. In the Dark Horse Fire and Stone comic series, it terraforms LV-223 and not even the Xenomorphs themselves are immune to its mutagenic effects.
  • In Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, it was revealed that protomatter was used in the creation of the Genesis Planet. Unfortunately, protomatter is highly unstable and dismissed by most scientists and is shown as the Genesis Planet suffers an Earth-Shattering Kaboom due to its properties. In other entries, protomatter has been used as detonation materials.

    Live Action TV 
  • Naquadriah is the variant unstable form of Naqadah in Stargate SG-1. It's the basic form of this trope; more power can be taken from it, but it's unstable. In fact, naquadriah's instability depends on how much energy you are trying to get from it. Higher energy means exponentially higher instability to the point where the X-302 attempted a hyperjump via its naquadriah-powered hyperdrive but the guidance computer automatically and intentionally missed the hyperspace window to avoid the craft being blown to pieces upon entry, and the Prometheus experienced a misjump while using its much bigger hyperdrive. After these incidents and the acquisition of some serious Asgard tech, naquadriah was never used for anything aside from boosting the yield of nuclear warheads - something the stuff is very good at.
  • In Stargate Atlantis they try extracting energy from an alternate reality, which will destroy the reality in question. No one has a problem with it at first since the chances of the reality being inhabited are astronomically small. Predictably, the alternate reality is inhabited and they have to deplete the ZPM (their usual power source) to stop the energy transfer before it is destroyed.
  • Trilithium, the dangerous form of dilithium in the Star Trek universe.
    • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The High Ground", the Ensata terrorists resort to using a teleporter device called an inverter to carry out their attacks on the occupying Rutian forces without being tracked, although the downside is that it caused severe cumulative distortions in the cellular chemistry of anyone using it, a process which, with prolonged use, could prove fatal.
    • In "When The Bough Breaks" from The Next Generation, it's the Aldeans' Deflector Shield and cloaking device that are causing all the trouble, degrading Aldea's ozone layer and exposing the inhabitants to ultraviolet radiation sickness. Beyond being sterile, they're quite close to death before Dr. Crusher is able to treat them and the Enterprise "reseeds" the ozone layer (somehow).
    • The Omega Molecule. The most powerful and dangerous thing in the universe. So much so that the Federation has a strict policy to destroy them at all costs (ordinary destructive things just destroys things. Omega Molecules can screw up subspace, meaning warp travel becomes impossible in the area).
    • In Star Trek: Voyager's "Course: Oblivion", Voyager has created an enhanced warp drive that generates a form of radiation that would be harmless to normal living beings, but is dangerous to beings and substances made of "silver blood", causing the Voyager of this episode (a duplicate of the original created months ago) to demolecularize.
  • On Luke Cage (2016), Bushmaster gets his power from a herbal mixture that not only decreases in effectiveness the more you use it but also slowly poisons you.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Ghost rock from Deadlands was bad enough, what with miners and scientists using it contracting "rock fever" and spontaneously combusting, and the mineral itself highly explosive. If you want more power (and you're in one of the series' far-future settings), make irradiated ghost rock. Trope Co. not responsible for mutations, cancers, and death.
  • In Forgotten Realms the Shadow Weave is an alternative arcane magic Power Source, mostly incompatible with normal magic which in itself brings some advantages. Its use involves either a pact with one of evil deities or taking mental/spiritual damage.
  • Games Workshop games:
    • Warpstone from Warhammer Fantasy is not merely the setting's local Green Rocks, it can be used to boost magic workings and the skaven use it not only as the basis of their economy, but to power their Magitek... everything. As a downside, it's a magical, madness-inducing mutagen. The Skaven use it in their weaponry with the idea that it's more powerful, but less safe. This is characterized by every single weapon team being devastatingly powerful, but having the potential to misfire, which can range from simply not firing to exploding the weapon and everybody and everything around it.
    • In the 3rd Edition of Necromunda, the STC that is the source of House Van Saar's technical brilliance is so badly damaged and incomplete that is has irradiated the entire House, resulting in every member becoming terminally ill by the time they come of age. In-game, the sickness suffered by members of the house is represented by members of the gang being unable to gain more than a single Toughness advancement when they go up a level (rather than the two that other Houses can receive).
  • In BattleTech, the Federated Suns developed a type of BattleMech myomers muscles that quadruple their strength when operating at high temperatures. However, it would violently explode when exposed to a certain gas. The FedSuns would go on to leak the flawed design to their enemy, the Capellan Confederation, who promptly began installing it in their battlemechs without realizing the fatal flaw, which the FedSuns used to their advantage in a spy extraction by dosing the battlefield with the gas. The Capellans eventually stabilized the myomers at the cost of dropping to a 'mere' triple strength increase, though pilots still had to operate the mech within the heat redline zone that would cause targeting computer failures and the risk of ammunition explosions in order to gain the strength increase.
  • Numenera: Carrying around too many Cyphers (artifacts from previous civilizations) will kill you. Exactly how they will kill you is abstracted because there are so many different kinds of technology, and nobody knows enough science to determine the root causes for certain. A Cypher could kill you with nuclear radiation, unchecked nanotech, psychic interference, alien laws of physics, or something as simple as lead-based paint.

    Video Games 
  • Phazon, pictured above, from the Metroid Prime Trilogy. Although there is no "safe" form of Phazon: it comes in "unstable and uber-deadly" blue and "even more unstable and uber-deadly" orange, unless you have the Phazon Suit from the original Prime, in which case you take no damage from the blue Phazon. Orange Phazon still hurts, though.
    • The Phazon Suit seems to have a lot in common with the Omega Pirate, which the Space Pirate research notes pointed out led to insanity and a much shorter lifespan. Fortunately, Samus kills Metroid Prime, who tries to kill Samus, but instead removes the Phazon Suit before this happens.
    • Unfortunately, Metroid Prime somehow merges with the suit, gains Samus's intellect, and spends the next two games spreading Phazon across the galaxy.
    • Somehow, it's not surprising that Phazon is actually the substance of an Eldritch Abomination planet out to take over the universe.
    • In the third game, Samus and the other Bounty Hunters are "infected" with Phazon by Dark Samus early on. After a certain point, entering Hypermode can result in "Corrupted Hypermode", which ends with "Terminal Corruption", where Samus transforms into another Dark Samus, if Samus cannot drain the Phazon from her system in time or holds out long enough for her suit to end Hypermode automatically. Near the end of the game, when Samus lands on Phaaze, the source of all Phazon, it overwrites her DNA to the point where Samus' own gunship cannot recognize her anymore and denies her entry.
  • Command & Conquer: Tiberian Series:
    • The games' namesake Tiberium is a virulent crystalline "plant". It leaches minerals from the soil and forms them into easily-harvested crystals on the surface, which is a hell of a lot easier than mining. The downside is that tiberium fields emit extremely toxic gases, mutates local flora, kills local fauna and is unstoppably spreading across the world.
    • In later games, blue form of tiberium gives double the resources, but also explodes when you shoot it. And let's not get into the liquid form, which creates explosions visible from space.
    • The Scrin don't suffer from these effects. On the contrary, they actually need regular infusions of Tiberium to survive. This is reflected in gameplay by Scrin units regenerating health while on Tiberium. Makes sense, as tiberium is a Scrin xenoforming agent.
  • Tales of Symphonia has Exspheres, which are used to power various Magitek and can be equipped for a combat boost... but without a keycrest made of special materials, they eventually turn people into monsters. They're also activated by human souls.
  • Armored Core 4/Armored Core: For Answer has Kojima particles, which aren't dissimilar from GM or Minovsky particles, but turns the NEXTs into Walking Wastelands
  • Cleria in Ys I, II, and [1]. It bolstered the titular civilization's rise to prosperity, but also caused its downfall. Said to be a corrupt form of Emelas.
  • The ancient civilization in Chrono Trigger was doing well using the powers of the sun and the elements. Then they discovered a certain sleeping Eldritch Abomination and decided to tap its power instead... Well, let's just say it did not end well. In this case, just drawing from Lavos while it slept worked fine, but once they invented a machine to take much larger amounts, the process managed to wake it up, and that was a huge mistake.
  • Data Draining from .hack is a form of this, as normal use inflicts status effects on the main character, but overuse is much worse. For one, side effects occur more often when you Data Drain more often (due to increased spread of the virus). However, the worst effect you can experience is your character being randomly, unavoidably, and irretrievably corrupted.
  • ADAM and Plasmids in Bioshock 1 grant the user temporary superpowers, but at the cost of mental and physical deterioration from prolonged use. It is also extremely addictive, causing people to increase its use in order to maintain their stability.
  • The Lutece Fields (aka Tears) in Bioshock Infinite allow its users to peek or to travel into other timelines. Prolonged exposure to them causes cancer, sterility and rapid aging.
  • In Phantom Dust the same Dust that made the original Edgar a Reality Warper with The Power of Creation fatally poisoned him. The Dust doesn't seem to have the same effect on anyone else because they aren't really human. Though prolonged exposure to it does cause them to lose their memories thanks to some tampering from either the second Edgar or Freya who seem to be immune to this.
  • Dragon Age:
    • Dragon Age: Origins features the magical ore lyrium, whose raw substance is toxic and can only be safely mined by the magic-resistant dwarves, who then process it into a useful state. "Safe" lyrium can make mana potions for mages, enchant weapons and armor, and help Templars develop their Anti-Magic abilities. Too bad long-term use can lead to addiction, mental instability and, in extreme cases, mutation — the codex claims that Tevinter Magisters who overused the stuff stopped looking human.
    • Dragon Age II also introduces red lyrium, a lyrium variant that works faster and has even more dramatic effects, eventually turning you into a lyrium statue or monster.
    • Dragon Age: Inquisition reveals that red lyrium is ordinary lyrium corrupted by the Darkspawn Taint, which has unsettling implications about the true nature of lyrium, given that the Taint can only affect living things... The DLC expansion The Descent then reveals that lyrium is the blood of massive subterranean creatures known as "Titans".
  • StarCraft: Vespene gas is used as fuel by every race, but prolonged exposure to the stuff is not good for health, as evidenced by Firebats going insane and catching all sorts of horrible cancers.
  • Gears of War has imulsion, which after its potential was discovered was used fuel everything from factory machines to civilian vehicles. It also gave most of humanity's remnant a condition known as rust lung and is the main motivation for the Locusts' invasion of Serra's surface. Prolonged exposure to imulsion turns Locusts into Ax-Crazy abominations whose sole reason for being are infecting anyone near them, or killing them.
  • Certain kinds of slime in Ghostbusters: The Video Game, particularly the caustic and toxic Black Slime. The byproduct of an imprisoned Juvenile Giant Sloar, the Cult of Shandor used it in their rituals and science.
  • Notes scattered throughout The Park reveal that Nathaniel Winter's attempts to harness the power hidden beneath Atlantic Island Park were fraught with disasters - most of them involving insanity. Construction workers committed suicide, visitors to the park were killed in all manner of horrible "accidents," a man in a Chad the Chipmunk costume stabbed two teenagers to death, and Lorraine Maillard starts to lose her mind the longer she stays at the park. Actually trying to infuse himself with the extracted energy transformed Winter into the Bogeyman now haunting the park. The Secret World reveals that the source of this hidden power was almost certainly the Gaia Engine under Solomon Island. Given that Gaia Engines serve as prisons for The Dreamers, it's not all that surprising that things started going pear-shaped.
  • Theia - The Crimson Eclipse: Orihalcon can make living beings being aggressive and feral, but the people of Ariathale are so desperate for a new energy source that they try to research Orihalcon, despite the risks. Fortunately, in the ending, the Altillians share their methods for safely using Orihalcon. Unfortunately, Orihalcon is eventually depleted without Halcon to produce it.
  • Zone of the Enders has Mettatron, an energy source that is responsible for making the Orbital Frames as powerful as they are but will also drive humans insane, with the most notable example being series villain Nohman.

  • Shinsu, the absolute baseline of power inside the Tower of God is not always agreeable with the human body. Without a certain resistance, people can die in the denser higher levels.

    Western Animation 
  • Transformers:
    • Energon, in Transformers: Energon.
    • The G1 series:
      • In one episode, they created anti-matter for Megatron to absorb and pelt the Autobots with. He subsequently had to eject it later in fear of DEATH.
      • The Matrix Of Leadership is usually a powerup for any 'bot lucky enough to have a high affinity for it. It's also Unicron's kryptonite, so when Scourge (a Unicron-made bot with Matrix affinity) picked it up, he simultaneously got a lot stronger and started melting.
    • In Beast Wars Transformers, the Energon found on ancient Earth was in such a massive and unrefined state that long exposure to it could eventually lead to stasis lock and even death. The destruction of the Vox's planet buster weapon eventually "purified" the Energon.
    • Transformers: Animated:
      • Transwarp energy fuses organic and machine elements, turning Wasp into Waspinator. Unfortunately, it's unstable, and he later fully explodes, teleporting at the same time. (He gets better.)
      • Nucleon. Created pretty much as an excuse for the Action Masters, it was more efficient and more powerful than Energon, but for some reason prevented them from actually transforming - supposedly forever. This, of course, became the excuse for the Powermasters, who could cleanse their partners of the Nucleon, regain their transformation ability, AND help boost their power levels to the point they were under the Nucleon.
    • In Transformers: Prime Dark Energon is extremely powerful and dangerous since it's the blood of Unicron. Megatron's abuse of it has dire consequences for him in the long run: he can never join the Allspark (the Transformers' afterlife) thanks to his contact with Unicron's Anti-spark.
    • In Beast Wars raw Energon is extremely powerful but also very volatile. The reason the Transformers needed beast forms in the first place was to protect themselves from all of the raw Energon on the planet.
  • Batman: The Animated Series once featured a crook who used a bodysuit made of a material that granted invisibility, but became toxic under the electric current that interacted with the fabric to make it invisible. Through his spree of small-time robberies, the man was slowly killing himself. His invisible car, however, was probably harmless.
  • The Peacock Miraculous from Miraculous Ladybug was damaged some time in the past, and now its powers can only be activated at the cost of the user's health (as seen with Nathalie, who has trouble walking and goes into a coughing fit after using it). It's implied to be the reason why Emilie Agreste is in a coma.