AB 1109 and AB 1210 restrict sales and mandate safety labels for the deadly chemical, sodium nitrite
- Aaron Vad
- Chief of Staff
- (916) 319-2012
SACRAMENTO, CA – Today, Assemblymember Damon Connolly (D-San Rafael) and Assemblymember Ash Kalra (D-San Jose) passed two bills - Assembly Bill (AB) 1109 and Assembly Bill (AB) 1210 - successfully out of the Senate Business Professions and Economic Development Committee with bipartisan support. These two bills address the escalating issue of teen suicides linked to the dangerous chemical sodium nitrite. AB 1109 prohibits online marketplaces from selling sodium nitrite to anyone under the age of eighteen, and limits the purity that the chemical is allowed to be sold to 10 percent. Additionally, it requires online retailers to implement a robust age-verification system to ensure minors are not able to purchase the product. AB 1210 requires online marketplaces to label sodium nitrite containers to include warning labels describing the fatal repercussions of ingesting the chemical and recommend the proper treatment if the product is consumed.
Sodium nitrite is an inorganic compound that has become a frequent item used by teenagers to take their own lives. Throughout the country, Poison Control centers have reported a 253 percent increase in self-poisoning with nitrites and a 166 percent increase in fatalities in 2021 in comparison to 2018. At low-levels of purity (10 percent and below) sodium nitrite is commonly used as a food preservative. However, consuming the compound in high-levels of purity can cause fatal poisoning. While there is no legitimate use for sodium nitrate in concentrations of purity above 10 percent, major retailers have been selling it at levels of purity up to 99 percent. Because the chemical can be easily purchased in highly pure forms and delivered directly to an individual’s residence, it has become a tragically frequent method of committing suicide.
“Despite pure sodium nitrite having no legitimate application in everyday life, teenagers have been able to easily purchase the chemical in cheap, concentrated forms through several different retail platforms,” said Assemblymember Connolly. “The widespread availability of such a deadly compound has undeniably worsened our mental health crisis by providing teenagers in a moment of struggle, an easy means of taking their own lives.
AB 1109 addresses this issue by raising the purchase age of pure sodium nitrite, dissuading young people from making a potentially devastating and irreversible decision.”
“While sodium nitrite has tragically grown in popularity as a suicide method, many consumers and medical professionals are unaware of the recommended antidote: methylene blue,” said Assemblymember Kalra. “By providing information about methylene blue, California can give consumers and medical professionals the information they need to quickly treat sodium nitrite poisonings and increase the likelihood of saving lives. Additionally, warning labels on shipping packages can alert parents and other household members to a potential suicide attempt, providing a critical opportunity to intervene. I am thankful both AB 1109 and AB 1210 will move forward today.”
At the hearing, the parents of teenagers who committed suicide by purchasing pure sodium nitrite, without any age verification checks or warnings, testified in support of the bill. They were also joined by Carrie Goldberg of C.A Goldberg, PLLC, the firm suing online platforms for negligently selling sodium nitrite to minors.
“On May 25, 2021, my 17-year-old son, Tyler, took his life by ingesting sodium nitrite, which he purchased without my knowledge by creating his own account on Amazon,” said Cindy Cruz, the mother of Tyler Muhleman, a teenager from San Jose who tragically took his own life using sodium nitrite. “How can a potentially lethal substance be sold to anyone, much less minors? It’s difficult to comprehend how sodium nitrite is so easily accessible to minors-more accessible than cigarettes or alcohol. I miss my son. I miss his gentle nature, his kindness, compassion, and empathy. As Tyler’s mother, I feel it is my duty to share my story so we can work on getting these laws passed. If AB 1109 and AB 1210 are passed, it will save the lives of children and prevent other parents from having to go through the heartbreak of losing a child.”
Last year, the parents of 16-year-old Kristine Jónsson of Ohio and the parents of 17-year-old Ethan McCarthy of West Virginia filed a complaint in California state court against the company Amazon, claiming that the retailer assisted in the deaths of the two minors by selling them pure forms of sodium nitrite, some in such high concentrations that a single teaspoon could be fatal. Disturbingly, reports detail that online algorithms also recommended customers who purchased the chemical also buy a scale to measure the correct dose, an anti-vomiting drug that would ensure the poisoning be fatal, and even a handbook on assisted suicide.
“At this point, we have heard from over 60 families and filed lawsuits for six families whose children died from ingesting sodium nitrite,” said Carrie Goldberg. “In most cases, the person regretted it, made themselves vomit, or called 9-1-1. Except for one case, nobody could be saved - sodium nitrite is too deadly. “Experts say means reduction is the number one way to reduce suicide. That’s what AB 1109 and 1210 will accomplish.”
Exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the rate of suicide among young people has spiked dramatically. According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and a report from the California Department of Public Health, emergency department visits for suicide attempts has increased with children ages 12 to 17 and the number of suicides among youth 18 and under rose in 2020. AB 1109 confronts this issue by restricting the ability for young people to easily purchase sodium nitrite, preventing struggling teens from making a deadly decision during moments of struggle.
In honor of Tyler Muhleman, AB 1109 will be amended to be named “Tyler’s Law.” AB 1109 now awaits a hearing in the Senate Appropriations Committee and AB 1210 will go before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Assemblymember Connolly represents the entirety of Marin County and Southern Sonoma County