MANISTEE — Police identified the hazardous chemical found during a death investigation at First Street Beach over the weekend.
Authorities were called to First Street Beach around 9 a.m on Sunday, when a couple found a man lying unresponsive on a cot, near the water’s edge.
Tim Kozal, Manistee director of public safety, said sodium azide was contained in a white bottle inside of the 27-year-old Mancelona man’s vehicle. His vehicle was impounded, and a search led to the discovery of the toxic chemical.
On Sunday, emergency responders were decontaminated and evaluated at Munson Healthcare Manistee Hospital. One officer was kept overnight and released on Monday.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sodium azide is a rapidly acting chemical that can be deadly when mixed with water or an acid and exists as an odorless, white solid.
Those exposed to even a small amount of sodium azide can show signs of dizziness, headaches, rapidPictured is the bottle of sodium azide found in the 27-year-old man’s vehicle, during the investigation. (Courtesy Photo/Tim Kozal)
heart rate, skin burns, nausea and more. However, exposure to a larger amount can prove to be fatal.
“Sodium azide when mixed with water releases a toxic gas that can be lethal,” said Kozal on Tuesday. “Consuming the mixture can also be toxic and lethal, as well. Who knows the level of exposure to the level of harm it would’ve had on them. If they had it on their skin they could’ve been burned, if they inhaled it could have been lethal.”
Sodium azide is best known for its use in automobile airbags, and is a chemical preservative in hospitals and laboratories. The substance is not controlled, and can purchased through many sellers.
“It also can be explosive when mixed with metal,” Kozal said. “You can buy it on Ebay; you can buy it on Amazon. Anybody can buy it.”
On Monday, Manistee City Police contacted the Antrim County Sheriff’s Office in regards to the investigation.
Antrim County sheriff Daniel Bean said the man left a suicide note, indicating he placed a lock box at the end of his bed. When the man’s parents opened the box, a vial sealed with a cork was identified.
The Mancelona Township Fire Department, Star Township Fire Department and Mancelona Township Ambulance were dispatched to the Lakes of the North area for briefing on the situation.
Crews with the Antrim County Emergency Operation Management, A-1 Hazmat Team and Hazmat from Otsego County were also on the scene.
Three residences in a cul-de-sac were asked to evacuate, including the home under investigation. All three families were sent to the Mancelona Fire Department’s station in Lakes of the North to be monitored for potential exposure.
“The three families from the residences were monitored for approximately two hours,” stated Bean, in a press release. After the monitoring was completed, families were sent home.
The hazmat teams found no signs of danger within the residences. Kozal said investigators believe the man had no intent to harm others.
“While we were talking to the (family) they were describing something they had found with powder in it,” Kozal said. “We had some conversations with (the parents) yesterday and there were instructions from the decedent to the family.”
The man was said to have local ties, a family member currently lives in Manistee.
Members of the Grand Traverse County hazardous materials team and industrial environmental services experts assessed the area in Manistee on Sunday, belongings that may have been exposed and performed any necessary cleaning or disposal.
The chemical found in the man’s vehicle at First Street Beach was secured by an industrial disposal company.
Kozal said the decontamination process and replacement of compromised uniforms could be costly. However, he said the important factor is no one was badly hurt.
It could cost up to $2,000 to replace uniforms of the authorities involved.
“At this time, there is no threat to the public,” Kozal said on Tuesday. “I guess financially, all in all it does not matter, for the safety of everybody in our departments throughout the county — we are going to spend what we have to.”
An autopsy has been completed, but Kozal said the cause of death cannot be confirmed yet.
The investigation is ongoing; the man’s identity has not been disclosed.
Anyone with information pertaining to the incident is asked to contact the Manistee City Police Department at (231) 723-2533.