Clean Your Windows – Clear Out Your Enemies!

A couple of years ago there was considerable news coverage of an unusual attempted murder case. A South Carolina college student allegedly tried to kill her roommates by spraying their food with a window cleaning product.

The student was caught on videotape and arrested for unlawful and malicious tampering with a drug product or human food, a class C felony that can carry up to a twenty-year prison sentence if convicted.

Even though I have some knowledge about lethal chemicals and an active imagination regarding how to use them for murder, news broadcasts constantly amaze me by reporting even more imaginative kill methods.

Since I’ve been blogging about the dangers of household chemicals over the last two weeks, I thought that this might be an interesting follow-up subject to focus on this week.

Although window cleaning fluids can be quite lethal, it turns out that a considerable amount must be ingested or inhaled within a short period of time for them to be deadly. Certainly, a person would become sick and possibly need medical care with lesser amounts, but literature indicates that about fourteen ounces ingested or inhaled in a short period could be fatal.

Window cleaners often contain ammonia, ethanol, isopropyl alcohol and/or methanol, and these toxic substances produce a variety of symptoms. When the product is inhaled, the most common and expected symptom is mucous membrane irritation (specifically noted as a burning sensation in the nose, throat and airways).

When ingested, the symptoms include burning of the lips, tongue and throat. The gastrointestinal symptoms from oral intake include severe abdominal pain, vomiting and blood in the stool. The skin and underlying tissue die and simply disintegrate.

With either a lethal oral or inhaled dose, additional symptoms of low blood pressure develop and the central nervous system begins to shut down. This is exhibited by insomnia, irritability, an inability to think and focus, as well as dizziness and walking difficulties. Eventually, the victim collapses and becomes comatose.

Medical support for an accidental overdose of a window cleaning product includes immediate medical care. It’s important NOT to make the person throw up if the chemical is swallowed. A better recommendation is to give the victim water or milk to dilute and neutralize the chemical, but do not give these supportive fluids if the person is vomiting or not completely alert.

With inhalation of large amounts of window cleaner, it’s important to move the victim to fresh air after calling for emergency help.

In researching the lethal effects of window cleaners, I discovered that there are also many beneficial uses for this household product aside from cleaning windows. The most significant include using it for pest control—one spray on ants is lethal. Another useful suggestion is to use window cleaning products to remove ketchup, red wine and tomato sauce stains from clothes. The recommendation is to spray the spot, let it set for 15 minutes and then wash the clothing.

As a murder mystery writer, I’m constantly looking for exotic, lethal chemicals to use in my next storyline. My next plot idea might simply come about by venturing out to the garage and scanning the cleaning product shelves.

Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!

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The Deadly Truth About Household Cleaners

In last week’s blog, I discussed carpet and upholstery cleaners as potential lethal poisons. This week I’d like to discuss the dangers of other household cleaning products and their potential to cause harm.

Air Fresheners: Most of these products work by coating your nasal passages with an oily film or a nerve-deadening agent to interfere with your ability to smell odors. The common chemicals in air fresheners include formaldehyde and phenol. Both can trigger allergic reactions in small doses that might exhibit as a rash that looks like hives. If accidentally ingested, however, these chemicals can cause convulsions, circulatory collapse, coma and even death.

Furniture Polish: These products are highly flammable because of their oil content and often contain phenol and nitrobenzene—both of which are extremely toxic chemicals that can easily be absorbed through the skin. Nitrobenzene, depending on the amount inhaled or absorbed via skin tissue, can cause fatigue, headaches and dizziness. And in larger doses, a person may experience decreased respiration, blurred vision and eventually slip into a coma. A telltale sign of a nitrobenzene overdose is a bluish-gray tint to the skin.

Oven Cleaners: These household products contain lye (sodium hydroxide) this chemical is the substance of choice to dissolve roadkill that gets dumped into landfills. Lye is certainly not selective and would not mind dissolving YOU—either from the outside or the inside, depending on how you encounter it.

Antibacterial Cleaners: These products often contain the chemical triclosan. I’ve blogged about the dangers of overusing this household item before and their contribution to the development of drug-resistant bacteria. Triclosan, however, has also been linked to liver damage because of its ability to be absorbed through the skin. The chemical also reduces muscle contractions—studies in animals indicate a 25% reduction in cardiac function and an average 18% decrease in grip strength.

As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, ordinary household cleaners can have dramatic lethal effects if used improperly or without caution. Accidental overdoses happen more often than one might think.

This may excite the murder mystery writer and give interesting ideas for murder plots. But, for the “ordinary” individual, I hope this blog will cause you to use such products with renewed vigilance.

Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!

Posted in A How To Blog on Murder Plot Ideas, A How To Blog on Murder Weapons, About James J. Murray, About Murder, Accidental Poisoning With Air Fresheners, Accidental Poisoning With Household Cleaners, Acute Poisons, All About Murder, Blog Writers, Blogging, Bloodless Death Scene Writing, Chemical Poisons, Chemicals Used For Murder, Choosing How a Character Should Die in a Story, Contact Poisons, Dangerous Cleaning Supplies, Dangerous Household Chemical Cleaners, Dangers, Dangers of Antibacterial Soaps, Deadly Poisons Discussed, Deciding How to Kill Off a Character in a Novel, Designing Murder Plots, Dramatic Murder Weapons, FDA Concerns About Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria, Furniture Polish Poisoning, How To Write A BloodLess Murder Scene, Ideas for Murder Scenes, Interesting Murder Weapons, James J. Murray Blog, Lethal Chemical Poisons, Lethal Chemicals in Murder Mysteries, Lethal Poisons, Methods of Murder, Murder With Chemical Cleaners, New Blog, New Methods of Murder, Plotting Interesting Murder Scenes, Poisoning With Cleaning Products, Poisoning With Household Cleaning Products, Poisons and Murder, Prescription For Murder Blog, The Science of Murder, Tools of Murder, Toxic Air Fresheners, Toxic Oven Cleaners, Unique Murder Plots, Unique Murder Weapons, Ways to Murder, Writing Dramatic Murder Scenes | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Clean, But Deadly Household

A subtitle for this blog might be, “The Deadly Truth About Household Cleansers.”

The other day my wife was using a bottle of carpet cleaner and asked me if the product was poisonous if ingested. I’ve long ago stopped questioning my wife’s motives with such questions. I know she’s simply acting as my research assistant and giving me more ideas for interesting blogs—at least I hope that’s what her motivation is with such questions!

As it turns out, carpet and upholstery cleansers can be deadly concoctions. They usually contain toxic substances like perchlorethylene or ammonium hydroxide. See here and here for recent articles on accidental poisonings with household cleaners.

Short-term exposure to perchlorethylene via deep inhalation can lead to wheezing that can progress to a severe buildup of fluid in the lungs—think in terms of a person drowning in their own fluids. Less severe symptoms include shortness of breath, dizziness, sleepiness, nausea and vomiting, and severe irritation and swelling of the respiratory tract.

The symptoms of ingestion of carpet and upholstery cleaners include mouth and throat irritation, swelling of that same mucosae, nausea and vomiting, and a moderate to severe drop in blood pressure—think collapsing on the floor.

Many other similar household cleaners and detergents contains variations of chlorine and these cause similar reactions. Larger doses can lead to convulsions and death. Exposure to skin can create burn-like lesions. Splashing such cleaning agents into the eyes initially causes blurred vision and burning that can progress to vision loss if not treated soon after exposure.

The best treatment for cleaning agents in the eye is to flush the eye with running water for at least 15 minutes and seek medical attention as soon as possible after that.

Two extremely toxic substances are hypochlorite and formaldehyde. These are often found specifically in mold and mildew cleaners, such as bleaching agents. Both chemicals are lethal when ingested. Concentrated fumes of sodium hypochlorite are particularly toxic and can lead to severe fluid buildup in the lungs.

The treatment for ingestion of these household chemicals includes one important, initial recommendation—DO NOT INDUCE VOMITING, unless instructed to by a medical professional. Emesis rich in the lethal chemical can cause further tissue damage on the way up just as it did on the way down.

The usual medical treatments for such poisonings include specific life support medications, activated charcoal, and the use of intravenous fluids and oxygen.

So even ordinary household cleaners can have dramatic lethal effects if used creatively in your murder plot.

Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!

Posted in A How To Blog on Murder Plot Ideas, A How To Blog on Murder Weapons, About James J. Murray, About Murder, Acute Poisons, All About Murder, Blog Writers, Blogging, Bloodless Death Scene Writing, Chemical Poisons, Chemicals Used For Murder, Daly Household, Dangerous Cleaning Supplies, Dangers of Carpet and Upholstery Cleaners, Deadly Household Cleaners, Deciding How to Kill Off a Character in a Novel, Designing Murder Plots, Dramatic Murder Weapons, How to Choose a Murder Weapon for a Plot Idea, How To Write A BloodLess Murder Scene, How Women Murder, Ideas for Murder Scenes, Interesting Murder Weapons, James J. Murray Blog, Killing Off Characters in Writing, Lethal Chemical Poisons, Methods of Murder, Murder Mayhem and Medicine, Murder Weapons Discussed, Murder With Chemical Cleaners, New Blog, New Methods of Murder, New Methods To Kill Characters in Your Novel, Plotting Interesting Murder Scenes, Prescription For Murder Blog, The Science of Murder, The Writings of James J. Murray, Tools for Murder, Unique Murder Plots, Unique Murder Weapons, Ways to Murder | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

BELLADONNA – It’s More Than a Pretty Woman

Some of history’s most lethal substances were once used for cosmetic purposes—well, at least before their deadly qualities became obvious. Unfortunately, the evolution from cosmetic to murder weapon developed somewhat from an “on the job training” thing!

An example of such commercial carelessness included thallium, which was marketed as a depilatory agent. It effectively removed unwanted hair, but it had a rather severe side effect of killing the person in the process.

Belladonna, known as Atropa belladonna and more commonly called deadly nightshade, is another interesting lethal substance that was popular as a cosmetic throughout history.

In Roman times, diluted eye drops of belladonna dilated the pupils, which was thought to make women more seductive. And if gently rubbed on the cheeks of the face, belladonna produced an intriguing reddish blush. Although these practices have fallen out of favor because they cause dangerous increases in heart rates and possible blindness, there are still commercial products available that contain belladonna.

Deadly nightshade (belladonna) is considered one of the most toxic of plants in the Eastern Hemisphere. All parts of this botanical contain toxic alkaloids. While the roots are the most deadly part, poisonous alkaloids are present throughout the plant.

Scopolamine and hyoscyamine are the main toxins in the plant and these produce extreme delirium and hallucinations. I’ve written about these alkaloids in other blogs (here and here) since they are present in some modern pharmaceuticals used for motion sickness. They have the potential for a serious interaction with alcohol to produce temporary amnesia.

The berries of the belladonna plant create the greatest danger to children since they look as attractive as fruit and have a somewhat sweet taste. Two berries consumed by a child could kill, and it takes about 10 to 20 berries to kill an adult (depending on a person’s body mass).

Adding the berries to food during preparation would make for an interesting method of murder for the mystery writer searching for a simple murder weapon. A more efficient use of this plant, however, would be to use the root or a leaf to murder. It’s been documented that a single leaf of the belladonna plant can be fatal to an adult.

It’s interesting to note, however, that many animals (cattle, horses, rabbits, goats and sheep) can eat the plant without ill effects, but many domestic pets are vulnerable to its toxicity.

Belladonna has been used for centuries in herbal remedies as a pain reliever, a muscle relaxant, for motion sickness and as an anti-inflammatory agent. The US Pharmacopeia still lists the methodology to prepare tincture of belladonna. In medical literature, its indications include use as an antidote for certain poisonings (such as opium and chloroform) and the deadly insecticide parathion.

So, while belladonna might be considered “old school” for deadly poisons, this toxic botanical continues to be in the top 10 list of efficient murder weapons because of its effectiveness, its relative ease of availability and because it discreetly hides in food or drink.

Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!

Posted in A How To Blog on Murder Plot Ideas, A How To Blog on Murder Weapons, About Medications/Pharmacy, About Murder, All About Murder, Belladonna and Hyoscyamine Toxins, Belladonna and Scopolamine Toxins, Belladonna As A Murder Weapon, Belladonna Drugs, Beneficial Venoms, Blog About Poisons in Fiction Writing, Blog Writers, Blogging, Bloodless Death Scene Writing, Botanical Murder Weapons, Botanicals That Kill, Chemical Poisons, Chemicals Used For Murder, Deadly Cosmetics, Deadly Plant Poisons, Deadly Poisons Discussed, Designer Poisons Used For Murder, Designing Murder Plots, Developing Storyline Ideas, Dramatic Murder Weapons, Drug Misadventures, Drug Poisoning, Drugs For Murder Plots, Drugs Made From Deadly Nightshade, Drugs Used For Murder, How to Choose a Murder Weapon for a Plot Idea, How To Write A BloodLess Murder Scene, Hyoscine, Ideas for Murder Scenes, Instruments of Death, Interesting Murder Weapons, James J. Murray Blog, Killing Off Characters in Your Novel, Killing With Poisonous Plants, Lethal Agents and Murder, Lethal Botanicals, Lethal Chemicals in Murder Mysteries, Lethal Poisons, Methods of Murder, Murder Mayhem and Medicine, Murder Weapons Discussed, Murder With Drugs, Murder With Poisonous Plants, New Blog, New Methods of Murder, Plant Poisons, Plants That Kill, Plants Used For Murder, Plotting Interesting Murder Scenes, Poisonous Plants, Poisons and Murder, Prescription For Murder Blog, Scopolamine Adverse Effects, Scopolamine and Amnesia, Thallium Poisoning, Thallium Used to Murder, The Science of Murder, The Toxicity of Deadly Nightshade, The Toxicity of the Belladonna Plant, Tools for Murder, Top 10 Most Poisonous Plants, Top Ten Most Famous Poisons, Unique Murder Plots, Unique Murder Weapons, Uses of Tincture of Belladonna, Using Deadly Nightshade as a Murder Weapon, Ways To Kill | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

New Vaccine Resembles Space Ice Cream

The methods to deliver vaccines have undergone dramatic changes since the days of the polio vaccine in 1953 when the liquid was dropped onto a sugar cube for dosing. Now vaccines come in a variety of innovative dosing methods other than shots. Skin patches and inhalants are becoming increasingly popular.

One of the more recent medical advances is a dosing method for the rotavirus vaccine, a disease common to developing countries that kills over 200,000 children per year.

While the rotavirus vaccine has been available for some time, a new dosing method for the oral vaccine has become a game-changer—especially in areas of the world that are most affected by this disease.

One of the basic issues to availability of vaccines in developing countries is that the vaccines do not perform well (potency is reduced or negated) when stored at normal environmental temperatures, and many are inactivated when stored in either too cold (frozen) or too warm (desert temperatures).

Scientists have now developed the rotavirus vaccine into a freeze-dried powder that not only has greatly increased stability during storage but makes it easy to transport. The process was developed in India and it involves dipping the vaccine into liquid nitrogen and removing the water with a vacuum. The remaining dry powder becomes a most convenient, easily portable vaccine that is simple to administer.

Freeze-dried rotavirus vaccines now can be safely transported hundreds of kilometers from village to village in rural areas, such as in sub-Saharan Africa. No longer is there a need to consider how this vaccine will be handled and stored in places that lack electricity or traditional health clinics.

The rotavirus disease induces severe gastritis that includes diarrhea, which leads to extreme dehydration and eventually to death. Dehydration is the second leading cause of death in children under five years of age, killing over 760,000 children each year. Stopping rotavirus in its tracks with this more convenient and stable vaccine will greatly and positively impact these staggering statistics.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has documented that since the freeze-dried rotavirus vaccine was introduced in 2014, severe cases of rotavirus have been reduced by over sixty percent—a monumental victory over this deadly disease and a medical breakthrough over traditional health barriers worldwide.

Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!

Posted in About Medications/Pharmacy, Blog Writers, Blogging, Curing Viral Infections, Curing Virus Infections, Cutting Edge Medical Research On Virus Cures, Deadly Viruses, Freeze-Dried Vaccines, James J. Murray Blog, Lethal Virus Cure Research, Lethal Viruses, Methods to Deliver Vaccines, Murder Mayhem and Medicine, New Blog, New Developments in Vaccine Therapy, New Drug Discoveries, New Drug Manufacturing Methods, New Drug Research, New Research Technology, Pharmacy/Pharmaceuticals, Prescription For Murder Blog, Reducing Deaths From Rotavirus Disease, Rotavirus Vaccine, Viral Epidemics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

BOTULISM – A Paralytic Nerve Toxin

Botulism, as an accidental illness, is rare these days. More sophisticated canning processes and better preservation of food products have prevented this serious neurotoxin from poisoning those in the modern world.

Intentional poisonings, however, are another story. The botulism toxin (called botulinum) is one of the most poisonous substances known to man. It is said to be 10,000 times more deadly than cyanide, and it’s been estimated that a lethal human dose is in the range of two nanograms. That translates to two billionths of a gram (think of a paperclip as weighing one gram). Therefore, deadly doses are not even visible to the naked eye.

There are seven types of botulism, but only three MAIN types. These are:

Food-Borne Botulism – This type of illness usually exhibits symptoms within four to 36 hours after ingesting a contaminated food product. The symptoms include dry mouth, difficulty speaking and swallowing, weakness of the facial muscles, blurred or double vision, drooping eyelids, as well as nausea and vomiting. Eventual respiratory shutdown and general muscle paralysis are the usual the causes of death. It’s good practice NOT to taste test food that may have gone bad.

Wound Botulism – This form of the disease is usually seen with those who inject drugs several times a day, as with people who use heroin. The symptoms and eventual lethal outcome are similar to food-borne botulism.

Infant Botulism – Babies who consume the spores of the bacteria will develop this form of the disease. The spores grow in infant intestines and release the neurotoxin. Honey can contain botulism spores and this is often a source of the disease for infants. Honey should not be fed to babies less than one year of age.

The botulism neurotoxin is produced mainly by Clostridium botulinum bacterium. The neurotoxin is so lethal that it is listed as a potential biological weapon by the United States Department of Defense. Deliberate food-borne botulism has the potential to poison many of the population and is considered a public health risk.

Food-borne botulism is the form often used as a murder weapon and which has the potential to be used as a bio-weapon. The cause of death is usually from suffocation due to respiratory muscle paralysis.

In 2001, a civilian bio-defense group issued a consensus statement regarding the dangers of botulism. The Centers For Disease Control (CDC) has classified this toxin as a Category A Agent because of its potential as a biological agent and the fact that it can be used as either an aerosolized or food-borne weapon.

Botulinum spores are extremely hardy entities. They survive boiling temperatures for over three hours. They are resistant to ultra violet light, irradiation and alcohols. These spores are said to survive in the dry state for over 30 years and can be reactivated by heating them, so storage for future weapon use is not a problem.

The good news is that the spores may be killed by chlorine disinfectants. And about two years ago the FDA approved a botulism antitoxin drug, which is said to neutralize all seven known forms of the disease.

Survival depends on early initiation of treatment with the antitoxin, supportive medical care (such as breathing machine support and stomach pumping) and appropriate antibiotic use. But the recovery process can be lengthy, with assisted ventilation continuing for weeks and even months after the initial symptoms occur.

However, this same neurotoxin, when prepared in dilute concentrations, is used commercially to treat medical and cosmetic conditions. It amazes me, and even boggles my mind, that a substance with such destructive potential can be harnessed and used in beneficial ways.

Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!

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Visine as a Deadly Poison!

I’ve blogged often about various methods of murder that do NOT involve the spilling of blood, and I’ve discovered yet another weapon that can be used when writing a bloodless death scene—Visine!

Yes, those eye drops that we all use to “get the red out!” Amazingly, a woman was accused of poisoning her boyfriend by adding Visine to his drinking water. She allegedly added a substantial amount to his drinks to get his attention.

The deed was discovered after the boyfriend visited his doctor several times complaining of chronic nausea and vomiting, as well as blood pressure and breathing issues. After traditional treatments failed, physician ordered a blood test and discovered an “extremely high level” of tetrahydrolozine in his blood. Eventually, the girlfriend admitted to spiking his drinking water with Visine.

Tetrahydrolozine is a vasoconstrictor (it shrinks blood vessels) and is the active ingredient in many eye drops and nasal sprays.

When I looked up “tetrahydrolozine poisoning,” I found a term called Visine Prank. One of the symptoms of oral intake of tetrahydrolozine is diarrhea. That certainly would make for an interesting, if not dangerous, prank!

However, oral ingestion of eye drops containing tetrahydrolozine, can cause much more serious side effects than diarrhea. If large quantities are ingested, serious illness and even death can result.

The common side effects are headache, blurred vision (ironic, to say the least), nausea and breathing problems. In extreme cases, seizures and/or a coma could result, with death following closely behind.

Some of the more unusual side effects include low body temperature, tremors, nervousness and irritability. The most unusual side effect listed was blue fingernails and lips, and I think that would make for an interesting discovery by an observant medical examiner in your novel.

To prevent death, aggressive treatment must follow closely after a large ingestion of the substance. Administering laxatives, inducing vomiting, pumping out the stomach and breathing assistance would be the expected treatments.

So, I hope you will do as I’m doing—adding yet another bloodless method of killing to my lengthening list of story plots. At the very least, spiking a character’s drink with eye drops might be an interesting way to take that character “out of commission” for some time.

Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!

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