Criminal mercury vapor poisoning using heated tobacco product

Abstract

We report an unusual case of mercury vapor poisoning from using a heated tobacco product. The suspect had added grains of mercury into 20 cigarettes in a pack. When a 36-year-old Japanese man inserted one of these cigarettes into the battery powered holder, it was heated to a temperature of 350 °C, and he inhaled vaporized mercury. After using 14 of the cigarettes over 16 h, he noticed he had flu-like symptoms so he visited the hospital. Although no physical abnormalities were revealed, 99 μg/L of mercury was detected in his serum sample. His general condition improved gradually and his whole blood mercury level had decreased to 38 μg/L 5 days later. When the remaining six cigarettes in the pack were examined, many metallic grains weighing a total of 1.57 g were observed. Energy dispersive X-ray fluorescence spectrometry confirmed the grains as elemental mercury. Accordingly, the victim was diagnosed with mercury poisoning. Because the mercury was incorporated into cigarettes, an unusual and novel intoxication occurred through the heating of the tobacco product. Both medical and forensic scientific examination confirmed this event as attempted murder.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2

References

  1. 1.

    Oz SG, Tozlu M, Yalcin SS, Sozen T, Guven GS (2012) Mercury vapor inhalation and poisoning of a family. Inhal Toxicol 24(10):652–658. https://doi.org/10.3109/08958378.2012.708677

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Gattineni J, Weiser S, Becker AM, Baum M (2007) Mercury intoxication: lack of correlation between symptoms and levels. Clin Pediatr (Phila) 46(9):844–846. https://doi.org/10.1177/0009922807303893

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Solis MT, Yuen E, Cortez PS, Goebel PJ (2000) Family poisoned by mercury vapor inhalation. Am J Emerg Med 18(5):599–602

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Asano S, Eto K, Kurisaki E, Gunji H, Hiraiwa K, Sato M, Sato H, Hasuike M, Hagiwara N, Wakasa H (2000) Acute inorganic mercury vapor inhalation poisoning. Pathol Int 50(3):169–174

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Lien DC, Todoruk DN, Rajani HR, Cook DA, Herbert FA (1983) Accidental inhalation of mercury vapour: respiratory and toxicologic consequences. Can Med Assoc J 129(6):591–595

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Rowens B, Guerrero-Betancourt D, Gottlieb CA, Boyes RJ, Eichenhorn MS (1991) Respiratory failure and death following acute inhalation of mercury vapor. A clinical and histologic perspective. Chest 99(1):185–190

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Jung RC, Aaronson J (1980) Death following inhalation of mercury vapor at home. West J Med 132(6):539–543

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Zhu SH, Zhuang YL, Wong S, Cummins SE, Tedeschi GJ (2017) E-cigarette use and associated changes in population smoking cessation: evidence from US current population surveys. BMJ 358:j3262. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.j3262

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Natelson EA, Blumenthal BJ, Fred HL (1971) Acute mercury vapor poisoning in the home. Chest 59:677–679. https://doi.org/10.1378/chest.59.6.677

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Hursh JB, Cherian MG, Clarkson TW, Vostal JJ, Mallie RV (1976) Clearance of mercury (HG-197, HG-203) vapor inhaled by human subjects. Arch Environ Health 31(6):302–309

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    US EPA (1997) volume V: Health effects of mercury and mercury compounds. Mercury study report to congress. EPA-452/R-97-007, 2–1, Washington, DC

  12. 12.

    WHO (2003) Elemental mercury and inorganic mercury compounds: human health aspects. In Concise international chemical assessment document (CICAD) 50:13–14

  13. 13.

    De Palma G, Mariotti O, Lonati D, Goldoni M, Catalani S, Mutti A, Locatelli C, Apostoli P (2008) Toxicokinetics and toxicodynamics of elemental mercury following self-administration. Clin Toxicol (Phila) 46(9):869–876. https://doi.org/10.1080/15563650802136241

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Halbach S, Welzl G (2010) Levels of organic and inorganic mercury in human blood predicted from measurements of total mercury. J Appl Toxicol 30(7):674–679. https://doi.org/10.1002/jat.1540

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Solis MT1, Yuen E, Cortez PS, Goebel PJ (2000) Family poisoned by mercury vapor inhalation. Am J Emerg Med 18(5):599–602

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Masahito Hitosugi.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Informed consent

Written informed consent for publishing this scientific report was obtained from the victim of this case.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Hitosugi, M., Tojo, M., Kane, M. et al. Criminal mercury vapor poisoning using heated tobacco product. Int J Legal Med 133, 479–481 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00414-018-1923-4

Download citation

Keywords

  • Mercury vapor
  • Poisoning
  • Heated tobacco product
  • Blood concentration
  • Crime