May 31st, 2019
This past Tuesday morning, Amazon Seller James Moore with Ideal Calibrations received a phone call from an Amazon customer regarding her purchase of a calibration gas, 5ppm nitrogen dioxide (NO2). Right away, Moore was taken aback by the customer’s first question, “How do I get the gas out of the bottle?” Typically, anyone buying calibration gases would surely know you need a regulator, which he kindly explained to her using the example of a dive tank.
Thinking perhaps this was a purchasing agent or buyer, Moore asked her what brand of gas detector she had that needed calibrating. She told him that she’s not using it on any gas detectors; she wasn’t trying to calibrate anything.
Moore was then inclined to raise the question, “So what are you using the gas for then?” to which the woman replied, “Well, I’d rather not say.”
At this point confused, Moore joked that if you wanted to waste $200 worth of gas you could just take a screwdriver and depress the pin in the middle. Unfortunately, her reaction to this was far from funny when she replied, “How do I make it stay open?”
The customer then mentions that she saw a regulator for nitrogen online, but Moore explained that the regulator she was referring to was not for nitrogen dioxide; nitrogen is an inert gas, while NO2 is a Class A poison. She had absolutely no reaction to this.
Moore tells us, “I just knew something wasn’t right. You’d know you need a regulator. She could have bought a regulator, we sell those too. But I wasn’t going to sell her one after that conversation.”
In ten years, Moore had never received a call like this. Out of curiosity, he logged into his Amazon seller account to see that the order was delivered to a residential apartment address. Amazon deliveries to home addresses have become more common over the last year, and to find that this particular order went to a residential customer did nothing to alleviate his confusion.
Deeply concerned at this point and thinking back to a presentation titled “The Gray Area: Where Rescue Meets Hazmat” by Glendale, CA Fire Department Captain Phil Ambrose, Moore gave Ambrose a call to discuss.
Ambrose quickly identified some red flags:
- She didn’t even know what this product was typically used for
- She would not say what she intended to use the product for
- It did not phase her when told this gas was a Class A poison
- Order was shipped to a residential apartment rather than a registered business
Ambrose explained that she could be attempting to make an “exit bag” (also known as a “suicide bag”) which is a large plastic bag placed over the head with a drawstring, clamp, tie, or velcro at the bottom of the bag so that air cannot get in or out other than what you pump into it. By displacing the oxygen with other inert gases such as helium or nitrogen, oxygen concentrations in the blood will be reduced to dangerously low levels without signaling a fight or flight response (allegedly allowing a peaceful death). This is because our drive to breathe is based on carbon dioxide levels in your body, not lack of oxygen.
“In this case,” Ambrose explains, “the NO2 would have burned her mucous membranes which could result in permanent damage, but it’s not likely that would cause death. oxygen deprivation and asphyxiation from the nitrogen would have killed her.”
Moore and Ambrose quickly came to the conclusion that this was likely what this customer was trying to accomplish and despite privacy concerns, immediately decided to take action.
Determined to ensure this woman’s safety, Moore figured out what precinct this woman was in and reached out to the local police department. First he left a message for Special Operations but after hours went by without a response, he called the emergency line. They listened to Moore’s story and agreed to do a welfare check on this woman.
Later, Moore got a call back from Special Operations. It was to thank him. Emergency did make it to this woman’s residence, luckily just in time. The supplies they found were almost exactly what Ambrose had described. Local authorities transported her to the hospital where she remains getting the help she needs.
Hazmat responders are generally well trained and knowledgeable about chemical suicides, but stories like this illustrate how important the roles of manufacturers and distributors can be as well. This week, James Moore showed the courage to act as a first responder and as such, never questioned the reason why this woman wanted to hurt herself or whether or not she deserved it. His hazmat knowledge, quick thinking, and incredible concern for this customer’s life very likely saved it.
Do you have a hazmat story worth telling? Please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org with details.
For more information about hazmat training, please visit www.hazsim.com.
If you are thinking about suicide or worried about a friend or loved one, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or go online to chat here: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress. We can all help prevent suicide.
¹Amazon Selling Policies and Seller Code of Conduct, Prohibited seller activities and actions: https://sellercentral.amazon.com/gp/help/help.html?itemID=200386250
²Wikipedia, Suicide Bag: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suicide_bag#cite_note-pmid20216304-8