The toxic substance that officials say may have been ingested by a Boston University doctoral student when she apparently took her own life at her South End brownstone is inexpensive and readily available online, according to a toxicologist.
According to a report in the Boston Herald, Roger W. Glese, a professor of chemistry and biomedical science at Northeastern University, said sodium azide is in the “same class” as the cyanide concoctions that have been responsible for similar incidents in recent years.
“It’s easy to obtain,” Giese told the Herald. “It’s inexpensive, it’s water soluble. It’s salt, like sodium chloride ... And it doesn’t take very much” to be lethal, he said.
The chemical is used as a preservative in laboratories, and can be purchased online.
BU authorities said they are looking into whether the 25-year-old victim, identified by the Boston Globe as Carolyn Brown, a third-year student at BU’s School of Pharmacology, had ingested a chemical from one of their labs. Brown was taken to Boston Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead.
Police said they found what appeared to be a suicide note, and a relative indicated she suffered from depression, according to the Herald.
Giese said the chemical in question behaves in the same way as cyanide if enough is taken, although, unlike cyanide, it only poses a danger to the person who takes it.
This statement appears to be consistent with the events of Monday night, as several police officers and ambulance workers were hospitalized as a precaution, but found to be unaffected by the substance.
A spokeswoman for BU told the Herald that “although the name of the chemical has been mentioned,” the university will await toxicology test results to determine the cause of death as they continue to probe the incident.
A cursory Google search of the phrase “buy sodium azide” revealed a mutlitude of options for online purchase.
Sodium azide was in the news back in 2009, when six Harvard University Medical School lab workers took ill after drinking coffee from a coffee machine laced with the chemical. The identity of the person, or persons, responsible for that incident remains unknown.