Methyl Bromide – An Effective Neurotoxin!

When envisioning a chemical weapon for use in a murder plot, there are22853972-Writer-at-work-Handsome-young-writer-sitting-at-the-table-and-writing-something-in-his-sketchpad-Stock-Photo several criteria that should be considered: 1) the chemical must be lethal, of course, 2) it should be readily available to the villain in the story, 3) it must be easy to use but not easily detectable to the victim, and 4) it should be unique enough to “wow” your reader.

Methyl bromide meets all of those standards. Acute exposure to methyl bromide, usually by inhalation, causes serious neurological effects in humans and can be a lethal neurotoxin in the proper doses. Symptoms of exposure include headaches, dizziness, weakness, confusion, speech and visual impairments, as well as numbness and twitching. The chemical is irritating to the eyes and mucous membranes. It can cause itching, redness and blisters upon contact with skin.

In short, the effects are dramatic enough to create an interesting murder scene. Sudden exposure of sufficient quantities can cause muscle paralysis and convulsions that lead to death. Acute exposure might even produce a delayed effect.

The second criteria—that the poison should be readily available—is an interesting story in anhydrousitself and that ties into the final criteria of being unique and creative. Methyl bromide is a very effective fumigant and pesticide used in soil and food storage facilities (in mills, ships, freight cars and warehouses) to control fungi, nematodes, weeds, insects and rodents.

An interesting dichotomy is that methyl bromide was banned from use in the United States in 1987 because of its ozone-depleting capacity and its harmful effects on human life, yet the chemical is readily available to this day for use in the agricultural industry under controlled conditions. Applications for continued use can be submitted to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and presently the agency is accepting applications for 2018.

Applications are approved via a “Critical Use Exemption” from the agency. The list of critical uses includes post-harvest rice milling, pet food manufacturing, as well as storage of walnuts, dried fruit and dry cured pork products. Significant users ofimages methyl bromide are the California strawberry growers and that fact provides a ready source of the poison for the creative writer. California nurseries that grow strawberry plants for later transplantation elsewhere often fumigate their soils with methyl bromide to control fungi and insect infestations.

I found it fascinating that the strawberry plants initially grown at these nurseries can later be moved to organic fields and be produced under organic certifications. That fact alone should make for a captivating side story to a murder plot.

Lastly, methyl bromide fits the criteria of not being easily detectable to the intended victim. The poison is a colorless and highly volatile gas. It’s almost odorless, producing only a faint, sweet chloroform-like smell at higher concentrations. Methyl bromide can be lethal by inhalation in a closed environment.

In March of 2015, a family of four on vacation at a resort in the US Virgin Islands became seriously ill and had to be hospitalized following inhalation exposure to methyl bromide mexico-beach-villathat was used to fumigate the vacation villa beneath theirs. The family was unaware that they were being poisoned since they detected nothing unusual until they experienced symptoms.

Methyl bromide is an appealing poison choice for a murder mystery. It’s an unusual lethal weapon that can be used in unique ways to murder and it provides the opportunity for an engaging backstory for your characters.

Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!

About James J. Murray, Fiction Writer

With experience in both pharmaceutical manufacturing and clinical patient management, medications and their impact on one’s quality of life have been my expertise. My secret passion of murder and mayhem, however, is a whole other matter. I’ve always loved reading murder mysteries and thrillers, and longed to weave such tales of my own. Drawing on my clinical expertise as a pharmacist and my infatuation with the lethal effects of drugs, my tales of murder, mayhem and medicine will have you looking over your shoulder and suspicious of anything in your medicine cabinet.
This entry was posted in A How To Blog on Murder Plot Ideas, A How To Blog on Murder Weapons, About James J. Murray, About Murder, All About Murder, Blog Writers, Blogging, Bloodless Death Scene Writing, Botanical Murder Weapons, Chemical Poisons, Chemicals Used For Murder, Designing Murder Plots, Dramatic Murder Weapons, Ideas for Murder Scenes, Inhaled Neurotoxins, Interesting Murder Weapons, Lethal Agents and Murder, Lethal Chemical Poisons, Lethal Fumigants in Agriculture, Lethal Pesticides, Methyl Bromide and Murder, Murder Weapons, Murder Weapons Discussed, Murder with Neurotoxins, Neurotoxin Poisons, Neurotoxins and Murder, New Blog, New Methods of Murder, Paralytic Nerve Toxins, Paralytic Poisons and Murder, Poisons and Murder, The Science of Murder, Tools of Murder, Undetectable Poisons, Unique Murder Weapons and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Methyl Bromide – An Effective Neurotoxin!

  1. sciencethriller says:

    You’ve got me trying to think of a scene where I can use this…strawberry poison!

  2. Yes, isn’t it a wonderful opportunity?? I was so excited to post this blog and there’s a scene in the back of my mind that’s haunting me now.🙂

  3. Interesting weapon, James, but I suppose one of the challenges would be finding a source.

  4. So true, but I think in this case a vendor in the agricultural industry in California ([particularly the strawberry industry) could provide an interesting source – with a wonderful sub-plot to go with it. Thanks!

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