Chemical common in at-home COVID-19 test kits can cause sickness, poison control centers warn

Hospitals are reporting a surge in calls pertaining to the chemical.

Updated: February 28, 2022 - 1:21pm

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Health officials say some at-home, rapid COVID-19 tests contain a toxic chemical potentially harmful to adults and children.

A chemical called sodium azide is found in a number of test kits and had led to an increase in calls to poison control centers across the U.S. The preservative chemical is deadly in large amounts, but when ingested in small quantities can cause low blood pressure, heart palpitations, headaches, and dizziness, or burning and irritation if the skin is exposed to it. 

Sodium azide exists inside the small units of liquid in test kits that are used to create the chemical reaction that yields either a positive or negative result.

Some hospitals and poison control centers have reported surges in phone calls about exposures to the chemical since the at-home tests became widely available.

Warning about the chemical, the National Capital Poison Center said, "Sodium azide is a very potent poison, and ingestion of relatively low doses can cause significant toxicity. Fortunately, the amount of sodium azide in most rapid antigen kits is much lower than the amount expected to cause poisoning if swallowed by an adult."

According to reports, some users have mistaken the small bottle containing sodium azide for eye-drops, leading to painful consequences. Other have mistakenly dipped their nasal swabs in the liquid before swabbing their nostrils, creating an intense irritation. 

Medical professionals say there is no reason to dispose of the kits, just be sure to sue them properly. If you or someone you know does ingest the chemical, call  poison control at at 1-800-222-1222.

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