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  #1  
Old October 27th, 2009, 01:41 PM
alert alert is offline
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Posts: 7,993
Default Harvard Medical School: 6 lab workers sickened by poisoned coffee - possibly intentionally

http://www.promedmail.org/pls/otn/f?..._ID:1000,79825

Archive Number 20091027.3712
Published Date 27-OCT-2009
Subject PRO/EDR> Sodium azide, coffee - USA: (MA)

SODIUM AZIDE, COFFEE - USA: (MASSACHUSETTS)
*******************************************
A ProMED-mail post

ProMED-mail is a program of the
International Society for Infectious Diseases


[1]
Date: Sun 25 Oct 2009
Source: Boston Herald [edited]



Poisoning at Harvard: 6 lab workers sickened by coffee
------------------------------------------------------
Harvard University Medical School is locking down its New Research
Building, installing new surveillance cameras and imposing tighter
security after researchers in the pathology department of the Boston
building drank poisoned coffee and were hospitalized.

The 6 victims -- a group of scientists and students at Harvard
Medical School -- used a communal, single-serve coffee machine on the
8th floor near their pathology lab 26 Aug 2009
, according to an
internal memo. Seconds later all 6 reported symptoms such as
dizziness and low blood pressure. One victim's ears were ringing and
another passed out.


All 6 were taken to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, where they
were treated and released. One was held overnight for observation.
The coffee maker was removed for testing, a Harvard spokesman told
the Herald.

Harvard University Police, as well as Boston police and fire units,
responded to the poisoning, and immediate testing by hazardous
material crews found no traces of poison. But a later test revealed
that the presence of sodium azide, a common preservative used in
labs, is what sickened the researchers, an internal Harvard memo
released Friday [23 Oct 2009] reads.


Sodium azide is listed as a 'potentially deadly chemical that exists
as an odorless white solid' by the federal government.

"While we do not yet know how the incident occurred, we have recently
learned that sodium azide ... was present in the coffee consumed by
the 6 employees," the Friday memo [23 Oct 2009] reads. "As the
investigation continues, we are being prudent and taking additional
precautionary measures to ensure the well-being of our community."

One of the victims, contacted and their identity confirmed by the
Herald, said they were told by the university not to speak about the
incident. Privately, however, they said they do not feel it was an
accident, though they could not say why someone would target that
group.

The researchers all work in the Harvard Medical School's pathology
department using mice to investigate how diseases interact with the
immune system.

Harvard spokesman David Cameron refused to discuss the poisoning, but
said no student or employee has been disciplined. The Suffolk
District Attorney's Office said it was not aware of the incident, and
the Boston Police Department is not investigating.

According to the internal memo, the investigation includes the
federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration as well as the
Boston Public Health Commission. The Health Commission told the
Herald they were called by Harvard to discuss best practices and
policy looking ahead.

The memo, written by Daniel G Ennis, executive dean for
administration, and Richard M Shea, associate dean for physical
planning and facilities, does not say whether the poisoning was
accidental or intentional. But the university drafted a tough new
security plan to make sure it doesn't happen again.

"We are in the process of installing additional security cameras
throughout our buildings, and we are strengthening the security
systems that manage access to the laboratories during both normal
business hours and off hours," the memo states.

[Byline: Adam Smith, O'Ryan Johnson]

--
Communicated by:
Greg Koblentz


******
[2]
Date: Sun 25 Oct 2009
Source: TheBostonChannel.com [edited]



Harvard tightening security after 6 poisoned
--------------------------------------------
Harvard University Medical School will increase security and install
new video cameras at its laboratories this week [week of 26 Oct 2009]
as police work to determine whether 6 people were intentionally
poisoned at a research building.

The scientists and students fell ill on 26 Aug 2009 after consuming a
potentially lethal chemical that was present in their coffee,
according to an internal memo sent to medical school students on
Friday [23 Oct 2009].

All 6 people had used a single-serve coffee machine near their
pathology lab at Harvard's New Research Building to prepare the
coffee, and all later reported dizziness and low blood pressure.
Testing revealed the presence of sodium azide, a common preservative,
in the coffee, the memo said. Sodium azide is an odorless white
solid, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

One person became unconscious. All 6 were taken to Beth Israel
Deaconess Medical Center for treatment. None suffered long-term
consequences from the poisoning. The university said it does not know
if the poisoning was deliberate or accidental. "While we do not yet
know how the incident occurred, we have recently learned that sodium
azide ... was present in the coffee consumed by the 6 employees," the
memo reads.

Many workers and students who frequent the building said they had not
yet heard about the incident. "I'm actually kind of surprised," one
said.

Swallowing the chemical can cause rapid breathing, dizziness, and
nausea, according to the CDC.


The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the
Boston Public Health Commission are investigating.

"We are in the process of installing additional security cameras
throughout our buildings, and we are strengthening the security
systems that manage access to the laboratories during both normal
business hours and off hours," the Harvard memo said.

--
Communicated by:
ProMED-mail


[Sodium azide is a rapidly acting, potentially deadly chemical that
exists as an odorless white solid. When it is mixed with water or an
acid, sodium azide changes rapidly to a toxic gas with a pungent
(sharp) odor. It also changes into a toxic gas when it comes in
contact with solid metals (for example, when it is poured into a
drain pipe containing lead or copper). The odor of the gas may not be
sharp enough, however, to give people sufficient warning of the
danger.

Sodium azide is best known as the chemical found in automobile
airbags. An electrical charge triggered by automobile impact causes
sodium azide to explode and release nitrogen gas inside the airbag.

Sodium azide is used as a chemical preservative in hospitals and
laboratories. Accidents have occurred in these settings. In one case,
sodium azide was poured into a drain, where it exploded and the toxic
gas was inhaled.

Sodium azide is used in agriculture (farming) for pest control. It is
also used in detonators and other explosives.

Following release of sodium azide into water, exposure could occur
through drinking the contaminated water or by ingestion of
contaminate food. Inhalation exposure may occur through dust or gas.
Contact with skin will also cause symptoms. People exposed to a small
amount of sodium azide by inhalation, absorption, or consumption may
have some or all of the following symptoms within minutes: rapid
breathing, restlessness, dizziness, weakness, headache, nausea and
vomiting, rapid heart rate, red eyes (gas or dust exposure), clear
drainage from the nose (gas or dust exposure), cough (gas or dust
exposure), skin burns and blisters (explosion or direct skin
contact). Exposure to a large amount of sodium azide by any route may
cause these other health effects as well: convulsions, low blood
pressure, slow heart rate, loss of consciousness, lung injury, and
respiratory failure leading to death. Showing these signs and
symptoms does not necessarily mean that a person has been exposed to
sodium azide as other conditions and diseases can produce the same
clinical signs and symptoms. Survivors of serious sodium azide
poisoning may have heart and brain damage.

What is more intriguing is that the University successfully kept a
lid on this exposure on 26 Aug 2009 until now (25 Oct 2009). While
their caution is to be appreciated, as well as the respect for the
victims, this same incident could have/may have/ occurred at other
institutions and they should be aware of such incidents. There are
communication channels between the various universities in the
nation, but there may have been other institutions other than
universities that were not aware of the incident and should have been.

It would be extremely unusual for this product to be in only one
coffee pot or container of coffee if it were not an intentional
incident.


Portions of this comment have been extracted from
- Mod.TG]

[The New England state of Massachusetts can be located on the
HealthMap/ProMED-mail interactive map of the US at
. - Sr.Tech.Ed.MJ]
...................................sb/tg/mj/lm
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  #2  
Old October 27th, 2009, 01:52 PM
Rwilmer Rwilmer is offline
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Join Date: Jan 2009
Location: Rochester, NY
Posts: 899
Default Re: Harvard Medical School: 6 lab workers sickened by poisoned coffee - possibly intentionally

As a little side note. ProMED mail is based at Harvard University.
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  #3  
Old October 27th, 2009, 01:55 PM
alert alert is offline
Senior Moderator
 
Join Date: Apr 2009
Posts: 7,993
Default Re: Harvard Medical School: 6 lab workers sickened by poisoned coffee - possibly intentionally

Note the red text in the article above. This is almost certainly an intentional poisoning, although there are likely many suspects at this time (rival scientist? political protesters? random nut jobs?).

Also note that this incident occurred two months ago. There may have been other related incidents since then, and if there have, ProMed will likely be receiving many emails shortly.
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  #4  
Old January 28th, 2010, 11:15 AM
alert alert is offline
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Join Date: Apr 2009
Posts: 7,993
Default Re: Harvard Medical School: 6 lab workers sickened by poisoned coffee - possibly intentionally

http://www.promedmail.org/pls/otn/f?..._ID:1000,81098

Archive Number 20100128.0301
Published Date 28-JAN-2010
Subject PRO/EDR> Sodium azide, coffee - USA: (MA)


SODIUM AZIDE, COFFEE - USA: (MASSACHUSETTS)
*******************************************
A ProMED-mail post

ProMED-mail is a program of the
International Society for Infectious Diseases


Date: Tue 26 Jan 2009
Source: WBZ TV [edited]



Harvard University police have ended the "active phase" of an
investigation into the possible poisoning of 6 medical school
researchers without identifying a suspect.

The university stated in a memo to faculty and staff that campus
police interviewed about 150 people during their investigation into
the 26 Aug 2009 incident, but the case will no longer be pursued,
even though it is "still officially open," The Boston Herald reports.

The 6 people hospitalized over the summer [2009] allegedly drank
tainted coffee.


One of the researchers poisoned said the coffee came from a
single-serve espresso machine in a common area on the 8th floor of
the Harvard Medical School New Research Building. "It tasted weird.
It had a metallic taste...I felt a sudden drop in blood pressure. I
was feeling like I was going to faint," [the researcher] told WBZ
back in September [2009], adding he and his colleagues were told that
toxicology tests showed the coffee contained sodium azide, a
preservative used in labs that is potentially deadly. [He] said it's
unlikely the poisoning was accidental, but says he has no idea who
did it or why.

Sodium azide is a toxic, but common preservative used in school labs.

A Harvard Medical School post doctoral fellow says the chemical does
not leave certain areas, and it would never find its way into a
coffee maker
. However, the Centers for Disease Control says accidents
involving the chemical have happened in lab settings.

In one case, sodium azide was poured into a drain where it exploded
when it contacted metal and the toxic gas was inhaled.

--
Communicated by:
ProMED-mail


[If indeed all of the 6 poisoned individuals prepared and drank their
coffee from a single serve espresso style coffee maker, then one
wonders if the sodium azide was in the sugar or the powdered creamer.
If this single serve coffee maker is like many of the new single
serve types for homes, then many have a water reservoir. Could it
have been in the water reservoir?

I am not sure I would be drinking something that didn't taste right
and had a metallic taste.


Readers are encouraged to learn more about sodium azide by reading
the moderator's comments in ProMED-mail post 20091027.3712. - Mod.TG]

[see also:
Sodium azide, coffee - USA: (MA) 20091027.3712]
...................................tg/mj/dk
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