Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Cyanide death

Although we don’t encounter cyanide related deaths very often, I have written about it before.

We had a cyanide death recently in our County. Word of the woman’s death “leaked” to the media and I got a half dozen calls from various outlets. I say “leaked” because I didn’t report it to the media (I get calls daily asking for information on “reportable deaths”, i.e. deaths they can do news stories on) because in our ongoing investigation at the time we were trying to decide between suicide and accident (the local media does not do stories on suicides, unless they are public).

The woman had died by inhaling cyanide gas, there was no evidence of a caustic ingestion, after generating the gas by mixing crystalline cyanide with an acid (or possibly with water, although this is a less “efficient” chemical reaction to generate hydrogen cyanide gas than the acid).

The media questions were interesting, but settled into disappointment after talking with me. I still do not know where their limited (incorrect?) initial information came from. I got questions like: Was she murdered? Did someone inject her with the cyanide? Was she hit and then given the cyanide? Etc.

No real story here. Based on our now completed investigation it appears it was an unfortunate accident. She apparently had the cyanide in her home for over 15 to 20 years. She had gotten the opinion of a “chemist” and/or from the internet that cyanide loses it toxicity over the years and becomes non-toxic after 20 years (important note: that is not true!). She did post a warning to anyone who might be entering her home that there was cyanide in her home. We surmise that she was cleaning up the cyanide in her basement (likely in preparation to move south) when the gas was generated by chemical reaction and she was overcome and died.

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