What I remember most about the house where these JFK events took place, where afterwards the family of Ovey and Rita LeBlanc lived, corner of Bonin and Main in Loreauville, is the very, very strong smell. It might even be called a Garlic House. It’s the language of mockery. The smell is long gone now. If a paint layer analysis were done on the interior walls of that house, one layer would probably show this:
What arsine is
- Arsine is a colorless, flammable, non-irritating toxic gas with a mild garlic odor. Arsine is formed when arsenic comes in contact with an acid.
- Arsine is similar to a gas called stibine, which is formed when the metal antimony comes in contact with an acid. Stibine has health effects similar to those of arsine, but it is not as widely available, and it has a much more noticeable “rotten-egg” odor.
Where arsine is found and how it is used
- Arsine was investigated as a warfare agent during World War II, but it was never used on the battlefield.
- Arsine is used most commonly in the semiconductor and metals refining industries.
How you could be exposed to arsine
- Most reports of exposure to arsine have occurred after unintentional formation of arsine in the workplace.
- Breathing in the gas (inhalation) is the most likely route of exposure after arsine is released into the air.
- Arsine has not been known to be absorbed into the body through the eyes and the skin.
- Arsine vapor is heavier than air; so it would be more likely to settle in low-lying areas.
How arsine works
- The extent of poisoning caused by arsine depends on how much arsine a person has been exposed to and how long the person was exposed.
- Depending on the intensity of exposure to arsine, symptoms are likely to occur within the first 24 hours after exposure. However, exposure to high doses of arsine can be fatal immediately.
- After arsine enters the bloodstream, it damages the red blood cells and can lead to signs and symptoms of hemolytic anemia as a direct result of this damage.
Signs and symptoms of arsine exposure
At lower doses, people may not know they have been exposed to arsine, because it has no odor. At higher doses, a mild garlic odor has been reported (however, this cannot be reliably used as a warning). Stibine, on the other hand, has a strong odor, so people will probably be aware that they may have been exposed to something. People exposed to a low or moderate dose of arsine by inhalation may experience some or all of the following symptoms within 24 hours of exposure:
- Muscle cramps
- Nausea, vomiting, and/or abdominal pain
- Rapid breathing
- Red or dark urine
- Shortness of breath
- Yellow skin and eyes (jaundice)
Exposure to a large dose of arsine by any route may result in these additional health effects. (However, showing these signs and symptoms does not necessarily mean that a person has been exposed to arsine):
- Loss of consciousness
- Respiratory compromise, possibly leading to death
Long-term health effects of arsine exposure
If people survive the initial exposure, long-term effects may include kidney damage; numbness and pain in the extremities; and neuropsychological symptoms such as memory loss, confusion, and irritability.
How you can protect yourself, and what to do if you are exposed to arsine
- Because no specific antidote exists for arsine exposure, the best thing to do is avoid it. First, get fresh air by leaving the area where the arsine was released. Moving to an area with fresh air is a good way to reduce the possibility of death from exposure to arsine.
- If the arsine release was outside, move away from the area where the arsine was released.
- If the arsine release was indoors, get out of the building.
- If you are near a release of arsine, emergency coordinators may tell you to either evacuate the area or to “shelter in place” inside a building to avoid being exposed to the chemical. For more information on evacuation during a chemical emergency, see “Facts About Evacuation” at http://emergency.cdc.gov/planning/evacuationfacts.asp. For more information on sheltering in place during a chemical emergency, see “Facts About Sheltering in Place”