Earlier this year there was considerable news coverage of an unusual attempted murder case. A South Carolina college student allegedly tried to kill her roommates by spraying their food with a window-cleaning product.
The student was caught on videotape and arrested for unlawful and malicious tampering with a drug product or human food, a class C felony that can carry up to a 20-year prison sentence if convicted.
Even though I have some knowledge about lethal chemicals and an active imagination regarding how to use them for murder, news broadcasts constantly amaze me by reporting even more imaginative kill methods.
Although window-cleaning fluids can be quite lethal, it turns out that a considerable amount must be ingested or inhaled within a short period of time for them to be deadly. Certainly a person would become sick and possibly need medical care with lesser amounts, but literature indicates that about 14 ounces ingested or inhaled in a short period could be fatal.
Window cleaners often contain ammonia, ethanol, isopropyl alcohol and/or methanol, and these toxic substances produce a variety of symptoms. When the product is inhaled, the most common and expected symptom is mucous membrane irritation (specifically noted as a burning sensation in the nose, throat and airways). When ingested, the symptoms include burning of the lips, tongue and throat. The gastrointestinal symptoms from oral intake include severe abdominal pain, vomiting and blood in the stool. The skin and underlying tissue die and simply disintegrate.
With either a lethal oral or inhaled dose, additional symptoms of low blood pressure develop and the central nervous system begins to shut down. This is exhibited by insomnia, irritability, an inability to think and focus, as well as dizziness and walking difficulties. Eventually, the victim collapses and becomes comatose.
Medical support for an accidental overdose of window cleaner includes immediate medical care. It’s important NOT to make the person throw up if the chemical is swallowed. A better recommendation is to give the victim water or milk to dilute and neutralize the chemical, but do not give these supportive fluids if the person is vomiting or not completely alert.
With inhalation of large amounts of window cleaner, it’s important to move the victim to fresh air after calling for emergency help.
In researching the lethal effects of window cleaners, I discovered that there are also many beneficial uses for this household cleaner aside from cleaning windows. The most significant include using it for pest control—one spray on ants is lethal. Another useful suggestion is to use window-cleaning products to eradicate ketchup, red wine and tomato sauce stains from clothes. The recommendation is to spray the spot, let it set for 15 minutes and then wash the clothing.
As a murder mystery writer, I’m constantly looking for exotic, lethal chemicals to use in my next storyline. Maybe I simply need to venture out to the garage and scan the cleaning product shelves for my next plot ideas.
Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!