COVID-19 continues to interfere with life, but fortunately, at-home test kits are available if you have come into contact with a known case, develop a cough, or are just taking precautions before gathering in a group. They are pretty accurate and quite convenient. If you’ve never used one, this is the drill: You take the long handled cotton swab provided in the kit and thoroughly swipe and swirl into each nostril (gross?). Then you place the swab back into the kit, add a few drops of the reagent and in 15 minutes you have the result: one line is negative for COVID-19 and two lines are positive (just like a pregnancy test!). During that 15 minute wait, you may read the label to pass the time and see an unfamiliar chemical that is in that reagent: sodium azide. What in the world is sodium azide and should you be concerned?
Sodium azide is a toxic chemical not typically found in a home environment. It is used as a chemical preservative in hospitals and laboratories, as a pest control in the agriculture and farming industry, and also used in detonators and other explosives. Additionally, azide salts are employed in automobile airbags where a chemical reaction causes a rapid release of nitrogen gas thus inflating the airbag. So, does it make sense to have this highly toxic and chemically reactive substance in my medicine cabinet? Don’t freak out just yet!
If you have read IPC’s blog before, you know that accidents happen: kids get into and swallow things they shouldn’t and even adults can absentmindedly use or take something in the wrong way. The same thing can happen with the liquid in these test kits.
According to Paracelcus, (1493-1541 A.D.), a Renaissance physician and philosopher, who is credited as being the father of toxicology, “All things are poison and nothing is without poison, only the dose permits something not to be poisonous.”
Paracelcus’ principal “the dose makes the poison,” is appropriate here. The concentration of sodium azide in rapid COVID reagent solutions, is 0.0125%) in a volume as little as 50 microliters—a very tiny amount. Therefore, someone would have to drink all of the reagent in forty-eight (48) COVID test kits to reach 0.3mg, which is the lowest dose of sodium azide that you could see toxicity. These low concentrations of sodium azide and minimal volume render these reagent test kits as safe and virtually nontoxic all around. Thus we in the 21st century can see the application of a 16th century scientific principal right before our very eyes.
The Illinois Poison Center (IPC) has managed nearly a dozen exposures to these sodium azide reagents. The routes of exposure included eye, skin, and ingestion. All of these cases have resulted in no injuries other than minor eye irritation.
The IPC reminds everyone to:
- Store all medications and chemical products safely and securely away from all small children and pets;
- Read instructions in a well-lit area and wear glasses when necessary;
- Read all product labeling thoroughly and “use only as directed.”
Should an inadvertent exposure to any potentially toxic substance occur, immediately call the IPC’s free and confidential 24/7/365 expert helpline at 800-222-1222. No question or issue is too big or too small (or too embarrassing). Just call!
Check out the IPC’s website which features other free resources:
- Complimentary Safety Packet (available in English and Spanish; includes sticker, magnet and first aid tips)
- Poison Prevention Education Course and Resources (available in both English and Spanish)
- Information on Continuing Education Credit (CEC) (available for Illinois nursing, EMS, childcare and Early Intervention professionals)
P.S. Got an experience to share or want to hear more about? Leave us a comment below and/or email us at IPCadmin@team-iha.org!