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Six Harvard University medical researchers who became sick in August after drinking coffee were poisoned, according to university officials.
In a memo released Friday, the school says the victims all drank from a coffee machine on Aug. 26 that later tested positive for sodium azide, a common preservative used in labs.
The memo, written by Daniel G. Ennis, executive dean for administration, and Richard M. Shea, associate dean for physical planning and facilities, does not say whether officials believe the poisoning was intentional.
The researchers, which include staff and students, all work in the Harvard Medical School's pathology department in its new Boston research building. They were using mice to investigate how diseases interact with the immune system.
The single-serve coffee machine was in a common area on the eighth floor of a facility called the New Research Building.
The communal espresso machine has been removed, and an investigation continues.
One of the six Harvard researchers sickened has spoken out since falling ill from the poison, determined to be Sodium Azide, saying that he doesn't believe the poisoning was an accident.
According to the AP, the chemical Sodium azide, which is supposed to be colorless and odorless, can explode when shocked or heated, and is used to trigger air bags to inflate upon impact. It can dissolve in some liquids, including water.
Ingestion of the chemical can be fatal.
Matteo Iannacone, a research fellow who has worked at the 8th floor laboratory of the New Research Building for more than two years, told The Crimson in an interview yesterday that he cannot think of how the chemical, a laboratory preservative called sodium azide, would have accidentally wound up in his and his colleagues’ coffee on Aug. 26.
“I just think it’s very difficult to find an alternative explanation for sodium azide in the water. That’s it,” he said.