Emergency Response and Medical Organizations Unite to Improve Recognition and Treatment of Cyanide Poisoning

Las Vegas, NV – Recognizing that limited awareness of sources of cyanide poisoning pose a risk to the health and safety of communities across the county, leading fire, medical and industry organizations announced the formation of the Cyanide Poisoning Treatment Coalition (CPTC), a national non-profit organization seeking to foster a rational approach to the diagnosis and treatment of cyanide poisoning through increased research, advocacy and education. The Coalition has also launched an educational Website, http://www.cyanidepoisoning.org, to provide information on cyanide poisoning and Coalition membership and sponsorship opportunities.

Studies have shown that smoke inhalation is the primary cause of death in 60 to 80 percent of the almost 4,000 fire deaths and more than 20,000 injuries in the Unites States every year. Firefighters, children and the elderly are at especially high risk of fire-related injury or death. Many residential fires are started by the ignition of common household objects, such as mattresses and other bedding materials, which are highly likely to contain the natural and synthetic materials that release hydrogen cyanide when they burn.

Recently, cyanide played a part in three fires in Providence, Rhode Island which sent several firefighters to the hospital with cyanide poisoning. While the fires are still under investigation, it is believed the source of the cyanide was from items releasing the gas while burning in the homes and businesses. The Providence Fire Department has formed a task force to conduct a review of the facts that led to the exposure and to take appropriate steps to ensure firefighters are adequately protected in the future.

“The recent incidents in Rhode Island show that one of the most common ways the general public may be affected by cyanide poisoning is through smoke inhalation from structure fires,” said Donald Walsh, EMT-P, Ph.D, President of the Board of the Cyanide Poisoning Treatment Coalition and Assistant Deputy Fire Commissioner of the Chicago Fire Department. “The U.S. fire-related death rate continues to rank as one of the highest in developing countries despite our targeted efforts to reduce the toll. We need to look at cyanide poisoning risk factors very closely in the U.S. – they are overlooked, and in some cases, instances of poisoning are not recognized or treated,” said Dr. Walsh.

Organizations with Participating Representatives

  • American College of Emergency Physicians
  • American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine
  • Academy of Certified Hazardous Materials Managers
  • International Association of Fire Chiefs, EMS Section
  • National Association of EMS Educators
  • National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians
  • National Association of EMS Physicians
  • National Association of State EMS Officials

Gauging Awareness of Cyanide: Exposure Risk and Treatment Preparedness RTI National Survey on Cyanide Risk and Preparedness
Conducted by RTI (Research Triangle Institute) International, this survey polled Advanced Life Support (ALS) emergency medical service (EMS) providers from 832 fire departments and 507 ALS providers around the country. Findings included:

  • Only 35 percent polled believed they were likely or very likely to be exposed to cyanide as a result of a fire in their service area in spite of information from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, indicating that a majority of the estimated 1.838 billion pounds of cyanide produced in the U.S. in 2004 was used to produce plastics, acrylics, adhesives and laminates used in building construction, interior decoration or furnishings and in transportation vehicle interiors.
  • The survey also found 79 percent of ALS providers indicate no Cyanide Antidote Kits are stocked on their “standard” ALS vehicles. Antidotal therapy is essential to reversing poisoning unless only mild exposure has occurred.

Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center Survey Results on Hospital Preparedness
In a study conducted by the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center, hospitals were evaluated for preparedness to treat cyanide poisoning and data results were presented at the 2005 North American Congress of Clinical Toxicology. Findings included:

  • Results showed a significant difference in treatment capacities (as gauged by quantities of antidotes stocked) between various regions – with metropolitan areas in the Northeast having almost twice the capacity to treat people with cyanide poisoning as metropolitan areas in other regions.
  • The study also found that some hospital stocking guidelines only recommend keeping a supply of one Cyanide Antidote Kit on hand – a supply not typically considered adequate for managing multiple victims as in terrorist attacks, large structural fires or other disaster-related events.

“The general lack of knowledge about cyanide poisoning and insufficient antidote stocking levels are alarming and are two essential areas in which the CPTC plans to focus educational efforts,” said Dr. Walsh. “In the coming months, the CPTC plans to develop and implement a variety of educational programs and tools to assist fire service and emergency response managers and emergency medical providers, including doctors, nurses and first responders, to help improve emergency preparedness, early recognition and response to incidents of cyanide poisoning.”

About the Cyanide Poisoning Treatment Coalition
The Cyanide Poisoning Treatment Coalition is a 501(c)(3) non-profit made up of organizations and individuals whose members have direct involvement with the identification and treatment of cyanide exposure. Currently, there are few resources that raise awareness and educate professionals about the potential danger of cyanide exposure. Through joint strategic initiatives to focus the required attention and resources on the issues, the members of the CPTC aim to increase awareness surrounding the dangers of cyanide exposure. For more information on cyanide poisoning, how to obtain a CPTC membership application, or how to become a sponsor, visit http://www.cyanidepoisoning.org.

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