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June 13, 1966


JAMA. 1966;196(11):1016-1017. doi:10.1001/jama.1966.03100240150041

Repeated or frequent exposure to the peculiarly offensive and readily recognized "rotten egg" odor of hydrogen sulfide usually leads to the erroneous impression that the major hazard created by this smelly constituent of our chemically polluted environment is one of olfactory insult. To the contrary, inhalation of this ubiquitous gas in concentrations of 750 to 1,000 ppm or higher can be (and frequently is) as rapidly fatal as inhalation of the much-feared hydrogen cyanide. A recent report in the Archives of Pathology1 describes the deaths of three young men who died within moments of one another from acute hydrogen sulfide intoxication after having entered a sewer. The deaths exemplify the lightning-like, deadly train of events which can ensue when this toxic vapor is breathed in elevated concentrations.

A treacherous, anomalous property of hydrogen sulfide, which increases its opportunities to do fatal damage, is the ability to produce immediate olfactory

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