Just when you thought it was safe to enjoy a refreshing ice tea . . .

April 1, 2014, 9:46 pm


Multiple Poisonings with Sodium Azide at a Local Restaurant. Schwarz ES et al. J Emerg Med  2014 Apr;46:491-494.


This is an interesting report describing at incident in April 2010 in which 5 persons came down with symptoms of sodium azide poisoning after drinking ice tea from the same self-serve urn at a local restaurant. All patients recovered.

Unfortunately, this paper does not add much to the complete report published in MMWR 2 years ago, except for some additional detail about individual patients and the treatments they received. To read TPR‘s discussion of the MMWR report, click here.

To read my Emergency Medicine News column about a similar incident at Harvard — The Case of the Contaminated Coffee Pot —  click here.



  1. Justin Says:

    Sodium azide used recently in a suicide by a UC, Berkley professor, too: http://www.berkeleyside.com/2014/03/19/chemical-suicide-victim-was-former-uc-berkeley-professor/

  2. Leon Says:


    Thanks for pointing this out. I wasn’t aware of that case.

  3. milkshake Says:

    1) Structure of sodium azide in the last link to report from 2010 is incorrect; azide ion is bent but it is not cyclic
    2) mild form of azide poisoning from inhalation of hydrazoic acid (hydrogen azide) was quite common in early days of peptide chemistry, when “azide coupling” was used on routine basis (safer and easier-to-use alternatives has been developed since then). Strong headaches, dizziness and fainting are the symptoms of hydrogen azide exposure. The usual procedure was to leave the lab, have few shots of a liquor, and rest – chemist claimed that alcohol provides the quickest symptomatic relief.
    3) Inhalation of hydrogen azide or TMS-azide produces near-instant onset of poisoning symptoms, there were instances of several people in a lab getting sickened due to a spill or improper waste management (i.e. sodium azide waste getting combined with an acid waste) but unlike with cyanide accidents, fatalities were rare.

  4. Leon Says:


    Thank you for the comments. You are correct about the structure of sodium azide.

    I like the treatment of mild toxicity from the old days. It would be good to do a RCT of single-malt scotch v aged bourbon.