Friday, January 11, 2013

Polyurethane Suicide

We've all heard of bizarre attempts of people to kill themselves through unusual means, and being a chemical engineer, ones using chemicals always catch my attention more, but swallowing unreacted polyurethane foam is a new one on me. Yet that is what an Indian man attempted this week. He opened up the hatch and downed a diisocyanate and a polyol (undoubtedly with some water in it)[*]. Catalyzed properly, these chemicals will react more-or-less on contact to create a hard foam. The man had access to the chemicals as he used them in his line of work to seal cracks around air conditioners.

I have several thoughts:
  1. How could he stand the taste of those chemicals? Maybe the polyol wouldn't be so bad (much like glycerin is), but an isocyanate?
  2. The man is lucky to be alive just because the heat of the reaction didn't kill him. The article cited above noted that the doctors found the internal temperature of the foam to be 94 oC!
  3. The man is lucky that he hasn't developed any sensitivities to the isocyanates, something that would result in cardiopulmonary issues

What is more surprising (or maybe not) is that this was not the first person to attempt suicide in this manner. The Journal of Trauma has a 2008 report ($-per-view) of a similar attempt, also unsuccessful.

For this newest case, the foam was easily removed and not surprisingly was in the shape of the stomach and the esophagus, reconfirming that drawings in anatomy books are correct:

This anatomically detailing reminded me of another suicide attempt in which a women injected elemental mercury. Much of it moved to her lungs where an x-ray showed the most beautiful imaging of bronchial tubes I've ever seen:

This also should make you question exactly how paranoid we really need to be when worrying about mercury from a broken thermometer or fluorescent bulb.

[*] The easiest way to foam a 2-part urethane is to include a little bit of water in the diol/polyol. It reacts with the isocyanate to form a carbamic acid, an unstable entity that decomposes to an amine and carbon dioxide.


Bend said...

Holy crap. If I were going to off myself I think I'd want to make the last moments of my life as pleasant as possible. But that's just me.

merlen hogg said...

Hi John,
I loved reading this piece! Well written!

Merlen Hogg