Harvard Medical School researchers' coffee poisoned with sodium azide
The day was August 26th. Harvard medical school researchers were just having another day at the office. The pathology lab workers were studying mice and how diseases interact with the immune system, writes Associated Press. Unbeknownst to these six researchers, their coffee had been poisoned with sodium azide, a white odorless solid that produces a deadly gas when mixed with water.
One of the researchers, Matteo Iannacone, a postdoctoral fellow, said that when he took a sip of the coffee, he noticed that it tasted weird. Iannacone reports that within seconds, he and the others who had sipped the coffee began to have tachycardia (fast heart rate), an increase in blood pressure, sweating, and one of them even fainted. They were rushed to emergency room. All but one were released that day. The other stayed overnight and was released the next day due to the sodium azide poisoning.
Iannacone states that he is sure this was a poisoning and not an accident. He says the toxicology results indicate that the coffee showed very high concentrations of sodium azide. Sodium azide is used as the explosive agent in car airbags, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Even though Iannacone is not particularly suspicious of anyone around the new research building for the Boston medical school, he states that he found it “disturbing.”
According to David M. Benjamin, a toxicologist, the incident was no accident, writes U.S. News and World Report. Benjamin states, “Sodium azide is a poison.” The CDC states that “sodium azide is a rapidly acting, potentially deadly chemical that exists as an odorless white solid.” The CDC goes on to warn that the gas does not give off a sharp enough odor, so there may not be sufficient warning of the danger.
The agent is commonly used as a preservative in biomedical research, however, Dr. Michael Greenberg, the president of the American Academy of Clinical Toxicology states that the chemical’s use as a poison is “atypical’. He states that in his career he has not seen any homicidal use of sodium azide, but he also goes on that he remain very suspicious that the chemical did indeed end up in a coffee pot by accident. Dr. Greenberg tells Newsweek that “it’s probably not something that’s going to naturally turn up in a coffee maker.’
Sodium azide is a deadly poison, especially if it is in the right amounts. If a person ingests it, it will form a gas, and if that person ends up vomiting, that gas can diffuse out of the vomit and harm any people around them. It can also cause seizures, coma, and death. Harvard medical school is upping security and putting up security cameras. As far as anyone knows, there is an ongoing investigation into the matter and no arrests have been made. The last known use of sodium azide as a poisoning was in a Japanese Kyoto hospital where the coffee and green tea was laced with the chemical.