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How ready are you for a nerve agent exposure?

Latest Chemical Suicide Attempt Prompts HazMat Response

Consumer Level Hazardous Materials (CLHS) continue to prove their devastating potential. Chemical suicides and chemically contaminated persons may cause evacuation and closure of your emergency department. Unfortunately, these situations and their potential continue to go largely ignored.

FOX News is reporting on a situation in Florida involving a person who attempted to take his life by drinking a chemical pesticide. The man later vomited, releasing the chemical and causing paramedics to become ill and the emergency department to be closed for hours.

What would happen in your health care system if just one emergency department was closed from chemical contamination? 
Suicide by blood agent, often called chemical or detergent suicide, has been growing in popularity for years. These situations continue to be a threat and have evolved with the use of various chemical products. Hydrogen Sulfide is one of the main chemicals of concern as are cyanide and phosgene.  These events are often carried out by mixing the requisite chemicals in a vehicle parked in a public place. Follow these links for more on chemical suicide in cars and chemical suicide in general. Cyanide was used in a Kansas suicide in 2010.
 

The chemical used in the Florida event was the pesticide Malathion, an organophosphate/cholinesterase inhibitor that can cause a toxidrome similar to that of chemical nerve agents.  Organophosphate nerve agent exposure can result in a variety of symptoms including the "Killer B's" of bradycardia, bronchospasm, and bronchorrhea. Nerve agents in this class block the effects of acetycholinesterase (AChE) and result in hyper-stimulation of effected body systems. 

In contrast, blood agents (Hydrogen cyanide, cyanogen chloride, and hydrogen sulphide) interfere with cellular respiration and result in hypoxia. They are highly toxic materials and result in rapid death. Chlorine and phosgene are known as choking agents and stress the respiratory system and cause edema in the lungs. 

You don't have to wait for a terrorist attack to think about these chemicals. 
I discuss all of these materials in Maintaining a Culture of Preparedness - a talk designed to draw parallels between terrorist attacks and everyday Consumer Level Hazardous Materials events. 

I encourage everyone to:
  1. Review their agency policy on decontamination and chemical protection  and inventory
  2. Review your hospital emergency evacuation plan - is it realistic? 
  3. Review your plans for mass fatalities and management of chemical casualties
  4. Have your plans reviewed by an independent evaluator and test your plans with preparedness  exercises. If you'd like help with plan review and exercise design, contact me 
Follow this link for a summary of Mitigation Journal podcasts about chemical suicide.
Special thanks to Mike for sending the original article

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