What is methyl isocyanate?
Methyl isocyanate (MIS) is a chemical used in the
manufacture of polyurethane foam, pesticides and plastics. It usually
is handled and shipped as a liquid, which is easily burned and
explosive. Methyl isocyanate evaporates quickly in the air. It has a
strong odor but it can begin to make people sick before the chemical
can be smelled. MIS was the chemical released in the Bhopal, India,
disaster in 1984 that killed more than 3,800 people.
How can someone come into contact with methyl isocyanate?
A person can come into contact with methyl isocyanate by-
- Breathing in the smoke from tobacco (i.e., cigarette smoke);
- Breathing in or touching it at workplaces where the chemical is produced or used; or
- Breathing in low levels of it from living near facilities that manufacture, store or use the chemical.
Methyl isocyanate as a weapon: Methyl
isocyanate can be an "agent of opportunity." This means that someone
could explode the vehicle of transportation (truck, train) that is
being used to ship the chemical, or destroy tanks that store the
chemical. Methyl isocyanate would then be released into the air.
Please note: Just because you come into contact with methyl isocyanate does not mean you will get sick from it.
What happens if someone gets sick from methyl isocyanate?
Signs of a poisoning include the following:
- discomfort and burning of the skin
- chest pain
- tightness in the chest
- difficulty breathing
How likely is someone to die from methyl isocyanate poisoning?
The effects of methyl isocyanate will depend on the
concentration of exposure and length of time the person is exposed.
Exposure to high concentrations could result in severe damage to the
lungs and lead to death.
What is the treatment for methyl isocyanate poisoning?
- Prevention of illness after contact: First, leave the area where the methyl isocyanate was released and move to fresh air.
- Remove clothing.
Then, quickly take off clothing that may have methyl isocyanate on it.
If possible, any clothing that has to be pulled over the head should be
cut off the body instead so the chemical does not get near the eyes,
mouth or nose. If helping other people remove their clothing, try to
avoid touching any contaminated areas.
- Then, quickly take off clothing that may have methyl isocyanate on it.
- Wash affected areas.
- As quickly as possible, wash any methyl isocyanate from the skin with lots of soap and water.
- If the eyes are burning or vision is blurred, rinse your eyes with plain water for 10 to 15 minutes.
If contact lenses are worn, remove them and put them with the
contaminated clothing. Do not put the contacts back in. If eyeglasses
are worn, wash them with soap and water. Eyeglasses can be put back on
after they are washed.
- If you are wearing
jewelry that you can wash with soap and water, wash it and put it back
on. If it cannot be washed, put it with the contaminated clothing.
- Discard contaminated items.
Place the clothing and any other contaminated items inside a plastic
bag. Avoid touching contaminated areas of the clothing. If you can't
avoid touching contaminated areas, or you aren't sure where the
contaminated areas are, wear rubber gloves or use tongs, sticks or
similar objects. Anything that touches the contaminated clothing should
also be placed in the bag.
- Seal the bag, and then seal that bag inside another plastic bag.
Call the local county health department right away. (Visit
www.idph.state.il.us//local/alpha.htm for a listing of all county
health departments in Illinois or check your local phone book.)
When the local or state health department or emergency personnel
arrive, tell them what you did with your clothes. The health department
or emergency personnel will arrange for further disposal. Do not handle
the plastic bags yourself.
- Place the clothing and any other contaminated items inside a plastic
- Treatment of illness:
There is no specific treatment for methyl isocyanate poisoning.
Supportive care (intravenous fluids, medicine to control pain) is the
Is there a vaccine for methyl isocyanate poisoning?
No, there is no vaccine for methyl isocyanate poisoning.
What should be done if someone comes into contact with methyl isocyanate?
If you think that you or someone you know may have
come into contact with methyl isocyanate, contact the local county
health department right away. (Visit http://www.idph.state.il.us/local/alpha.htm for a listing of all county health departments in Illinois or check your local phone book.)
If you or someone you know is showing symptoms of
methyl isocyanate poisoning, call your health care provider or the
Illinois Poison Center right away. The toll-free number for the poison
center is 1-800-222-1222.
Where can one get more information about methyl isocyanate?
U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
Illinois Department of Public Health
Illinois Poison Center