Residents evacuated after cyanide found

The North Suburban Hazardous Materials Team was alerted to the scene of a suicidal woman at the Waverly Gardens senior living community after Ramsey County sheriff deputies received a report that a woman had claimed she had ingested sodium cyanide.

HazMat members arrived at the 300 block of Wilkinson Lane in North Oaks around 11:40 a.m. on Friday, April 26.

Due to concerns that the deadly, volatile poison could become airborne, the HazMat team evacuated residents from 25 neighboring units and immediately sealed off the apartment where the woman, who is not a resident, had reportedly ingested the cyanide.

Lake Johanna Fire Chief and HazMat member Tim Boehlke said around 30 firefighters from the HazMat team responded to the incident.

The team is made up of firefighters from the Lake Johanna, New Brighton, Vadnais Heights and Falcon Heights fire departments.

The woman told authorities she had ingested cyanide that was mixed into a bowl of applesauce.

According to the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Department there was a small amount of white powder on a table near the bowl of applesauce, along with a suicide note. The woman was immediately sent to the hospital where she was given drugs to counteract the effects of the cyanide.

Boehlke said before the woman left for treatment at the hospital, she had told authorities she had placed a vial of cyanide, wrapped in a towel at nearby Wilkinson Lake.

At this time it is unclear why she had the chemical outdoors but authorities believe she may have been mixing it outside before bringing it into the apartment. 

HazMat technicians recovered the vial and sent it to the Minnesota Department of Health laboratory for testing, along with the small amount of powder found in the apartment.

According to Boehlke lab results later confirmed the substance to be sodium cyanide.

It is unclear if the woman had ingested any of the poison, but Boehlke believes if she had it would have to have been a trace amount for her to still be alive.

“This is a very deadly poison,” he said. “Five milligrams could be fatal if ingested.”

HazMat technicians went into the apartment -- which belongs to the woman’s brother -- to test the air for hazardous substances. Boehlke said the readings came back negative.

Boehlke said the woman was thought to be a chemist at 3M, which may account for how the she acquired the cyanide, however, Gustafson said authorities later interviewed a few of her co-workers, who said the chemical would not have been available in the laboratory where she worked.

Gustafson said she was released from the hospital, but he did not know if she was undergoing a psychiatric evaluation or where she was staying.

At press time the investigation was still open and further details of the woman’s condition and whereabouts have not been released.

“This is just one of those sad situations,” Gustafson said. “We get a lot of calls from emotionally disturbed people who need our help.”

Later that afternoon Waverly Garden residents were allowed back into their homes after the apartment was decontaminated and testing confirmed there were no airborne hazards.

The incident in North Oaks took place just a day after the North Suburban Hazardous Materials Team was dispatched to a Wells Fargo operations center in Shoreview where a suspicious substance found in an envelope was reported.

Wells Fargo security had to evacuate 500 employees from the building on Thursday, April 25, for several hours.

Lab results later found the suspicious substance to be a powdery food product, possible crushed up cereal.

No arrests have been made in connection to that case, which is still under investigation. Gustafson said investigators have a suspect in the case who has been questioned, but authorities lack probable cause needed to make an arrest.

Joshua Nielsen can be reached at or 651-748-7824.

Sodium Cyanide

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Emergency Response Safety and Health Database, sodium cyanide is a systemic agent that normally has the appearance of a white crystalline or granular powder.
Sodium cyanide releases hydrogen cyanide gas, a highly toxic chemical asphyxiate that interferes with the body’s ability to use oxygen. Exposure to the chemical can be rapidly fatal. It can affect the body through ingestion, inhalation and skin or eye contact.
It can be released into indoor air as fine droplets, liquid spray or fine particles. It can also be used to contaminate food, water, outdoor air and agricultural products.
Sodium cyanide is used commercially for fumigation, electroplating, extracting fine metals and in chemical manufacturing.
The chemical is odorless when dry, but its gas releases a “distinctive bitter almond odor” that some people are unable to detect. Others have described it as smelling like dirty sneakers.


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