Poisoning

Poisoning

With the events in the news over the last few days of the poisoning of former spy, Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, we thought we would take a closer look at poisoning and its treatment.

It seems to stand to reason that we start this blog with what is known about Sergei Skripal, as this is the news event of the last week.

Who is Sergei Skripal?

If like us, until a few days ago you hadn’t heard of Sergei Skripal, you are probably asking who on Earth is this man?

Skripal worked in the Russian GRU military intelligence until 1999, where he reached the rank of Colonel. Between 1999 and 2003 he worked for the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Office in Moscow until 2003, before going into business.

Skripal was arrested and convicted of the charge of high treason in the form of espionage in 2006 for passing on the identities of Russian agents working across Europe to MI6. Skripal was sentenced to 13 years for his crime.

After his arrest it is said by FSB agents, the Russian Security Agency, that Skripal commented, ‘You outplayed me’. An FSB spokesperson compared Skripal to Colonel Oleg Penkovsky, who was executed in 1963 having supplied the United States of America during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

During his court case, prosecutors said that he had been paid $100,000 by MI6 for the information he provided to them, dating back to the 1990s when he was a serving officer in his homeland. Russia’s security agency, FSB, said that the information Skripal was passing on to MI6 amounted to State secrets.

Skripal arrived in the UK in 2010 as part of a high-profile spy swap with 10 deep cover sleeper agents planted in the US by Moscow, being swapped with 4 spies. It was assumed that he had been provided with a new identity, house and pension, having been deemed as the more important spy of the 2 swapped that arrived in the UK.

Skripal is believed to have moved to Salisbury, Wiltshire in 2011 where he bought a house.

Sergei’s personal life appears to be full of sadness in that his wife, Lyudmila, died in 2012 at the age of 59 from disseminated endometrial carcinoma, which is a type of cancer which originates in the endometrium, the lining of the womb. His son, Alexandr also died while on a trip to St. Petersburg in 2017, both Alexandr and Lyudmila are buried in a cemetery local to Salisbury. Within the last 2 years, Sergei’s older brother has died also. In 2014, his daughter Yulia, returned to Russia, where she worked in sales in Moscow.

Since March the 4th Salisbury has been taken over by the Police and media following the deliberate poisoning of Sergei and his daughter, Yulia, who was visiting him from Russia, with a nerve agent, which has subsequently been identified as Military Grade and is part of a group of nerve agents known as Novichok.

The BBC reported that the pair were found unconscious on a park bench by a passing doctor and nurse. Paramedics took the pair to Salisbury District Hospital where the pair remain, at time of writing, in a critical condition and a major incident was declared due to the determination of poisoning by nerve agent. The Police Officer, Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, was also affected having been first to render aid and has been admitted to hospital in a serious condition, although is now conscious.

In total, 21 people have been treated for symptoms of this attack.

On Tuesday 6th March 2018, Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, seemed to claim that the attack was carried out with State responsibility of Russia, although at the time of writing there is no public evidence of this. In a statement, Johnson said the UK would respond robustly should this be proven. Russia however has stated that it has no information as to what could have led to the incident but is open to co-operating with British Police if required.

The Prime Minister on Monday the 12th in a statement to the House of Commons said, due to the Nerve Agent being a part of the group of agents called ‘Novichock’ it is ‘Highly Likely that Russia is responsible for the attack.

What is a poison?

A poison is described as any substance, whether liquid, solid or gas, which enters the body in sufficient quantity to cause damage.

How does a poison enter the body?

Ingestion: A substance has been swallowed, it takes about 20 minutes to enter the bloodstream via this method of poisoning.

Inhalation: A substance has been breathed in, entering the bloodstream in as little as 30 seconds as it passes through the lungs.

Absorption: A substance being absorbed through the skin can poison a person after anywhere between 3 to 8 minutes.

Injection: A substance goes directly through the skin into the tissues of the body or the blood vessel, and can be in the bloodstream immediately.

Are there different types of poisons?

Indeed, there are 2 different types of poisons. These are corrosive and non-corrosive.

What is a Corrosive poison?

corrosive poison includes:

  • Acids,
  • Bleach,
  • Ammonia.

What is a Non-Corrosive poison?

Non-corrosive poison includes:

  • Tablets,
  • Medication,
  • Drugs,
  • Alcohol,
  • Perfume,
  • Plants.

How do I know if a substance is poisonous and how to treat it?

The easiest way to know if a substance is poisonous, harmful or otherwise is to read the packaging and label that the product comes in. It is always advisable to be familiar with The Globally Harmonised System (GHS) of classification and labelling of chemicals which is an international standard for identification of labelling chemicals, replacing the Chemicals (Hazard Information and Packaging for Supply) Regulations (CHIP) in 2015. The European regulation on the classification, labelling and packaging of substances and mixtures, the CLP, meets the GHS system. For more on the GHS you can view our COSHH page by clicking here.

In commercial settings, suppliers of potentially hazardous substances have a duty to provide a Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) data sheet, when requested.

What are COSHH Data Sheets?

COSSH data sheets, otherwise known as Safety Data Sheets, are required as part of the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and restriction of Chemicals (REACH) regulations introduced in the UK on June the 1st 2007. Although they are not a Risk Assessment in themselves, they carry the key information that an employer will need to consider when introducing or asking his/her employees to use a substance, whilst reducing the risk to themselves, the public or the environment. The Risk Assessment that an employer undertakes will meet the needs of the COSHH regulations.

COSHH data sheet will contain:

  • The date and the following headings:
    • Identification of the substance/mixture and of the company/undertaking,
    • Hazards identification,
    • Composition/information on ingredients,
    • First-aid measures,
    • Firefighting measures,
    • Accidental release measures,
    • Handling and storage,
    • Exposure controls/personal protection,
    • Physical and chemical properties,
    • Stability and reactivity,
    • Toxicological information,
    • Ecological information,
    • Disposal considerations,
    • Transport information,
    • Regulatory information,
    • Other information.

Other sources of information as to whether you should be concerned or not about the poison include:

  • The NHS non-emergency Health Helpline available on telephone number 111.
  • The Ambulance Service can also provide advice, but this should be a last resort when calling for an ambulance.

Poisonous Plant Lists

Childcarers should be aware of plants that are classified as poisonous, you can view a list of poisonous plants compiled by the Royal Horticultural Society by clicking here.

First Aid for Poisoning

The First Aid treatment varies depending on the type of the poison they have been poisoned by, whether it be corrosive, non-corrosive or inhalation of smoke, fumes and other substances.

Corrosive Poisoning

  • Be aware of your own safety, do not put yourself at risk in order to aid someone,
  • Dilute the substance or wash it away if it is possible to do so,
  • Wash any substance away off the skin,
  • Should the casualty be able to swallow, encourage the casualty to rinse out their mouth, and then give frequent sips of water or milk, this can help as long as the casualty doesn’t feel sick and can swallow,
  • Call 999 or 112 for emergency help, give them as much information as you can about the poison,
  • Take and follow any advice from the Paramedic operator,
  • Should the casualty become unconscious:
    • And is breathing, roll the casualty into the Recovery Position and continue to monitor their airway and breathing,
    • And is not breathing, commence CPR as necessary, remembering that it may be a good idea to use hands only CPR, as opposed to normal CPR in case the poison can corrode your face shield.

Non-Corrosive Poisoning

  • Call 999 or 112 for emergency help, giving them as much information as you can about the poison,
  • Take and follow any advice from the Paramedic operator,
  • Should the casualty become unconscious:
    • And is breathing, roll the casualty into the Recovery Position and continue to monitor their airway and breathing,
    • And is not breathing, commence CPR as necessary, using a face shield to protect yourself.

Inhalation of smoke, fumes or other substances

  • Move the casualty away from the fumes/smoke and into fresh air,
  • Check their airway and breathing, if the casualty is:
    • Breathing, roll the casualty into the Recovery Position and continue to monitor their airway and breathing,
    • Not breathing, commence CPR as necessary, using a face shield to protect yourself.
  • Call 999 or 112 for emergency help,
  • An upright position may help the casualty if they are conscious but having particular difficulty with their breathing,
  • Check and, if necessary, treat any burns the casualty may have,
  • Continually monitor their airway and breathing and respond as necessary.

With all types of poisons, it is important that you do NOT encourage the casualty to vomit as this can cause further damage to the casualty’s oesophagus, as well as potentially put the casualty’s airway in danger.

If you are able to, it is advisable to provide the paramedics with:

  • The container or COSHH sheet of the substance,
  • Any further information you have about the particular substance,
  • The amount of the poison you suspect the casualty has actually taken,
  • The time of the dose of the poison being taken,
  • Any samples of vomit that the casualty may produce for hospital analysis.

Whilst, we have taken you through First Aid for poisoning, obviously the best way to keep up to date with First Aid protocols is to attend a course and practise these lifesaving skills.

If we return to where this blog began, it is important for us to stress that attacks of this type are extremely rare in the UK and over the coming days and weeks more information will be made public, and we are sure the UK Government will make the right decisions on sanctions on the forces responsible for this act on our shores.

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