Sodium metabisulfite and SO2 release: An underrecognized hazard among shrimp fishermen

D. A. Atkinson, T. C. Sim, J. A. Grant

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Abstract

Since the introduction of sodium metabisulfite as a food preservative, it has been associated with several idiosyncratic reactions (eg, bronchospasm, oculonasal symptoms, and urticaria/angioedema) in sulfite-sensitive individuals. The pathogenic mechanism of these reactions is not yet understood. We report the case of two crewmen on a shrimp trawler who were found dead in the ship's hold. Their deaths had occurred while they were applying dry sodium metabisulfite, referred to as 'shrimp dip' in the shrimping industry. Postmortem examinations showed diffuse pulmonary edema consistent with death secondary to asphyxia. Associated findings were visceral congestion. Although it is possible to measure death from sodium metabisulfite with available records, its potential morbidity cannot be estimated. It is known that sodium metabisulfite can react with acids and water, releasing toxic sulfur dioxide (SO2) gas. In addition, SO2 gas reacts with respiratory tissue forming sulfurous acid, and inducing a pulmonary reaction causing hypoxemia. Furthermore, sodium metabisulfite, compared with sodium bisulfite, has a much greater propensity to release SO2 gas. We conclude that there is a need for improved education regarding the potential side effects of sodium metabisulfite, thus eliminating needless occupational morbidity and mortality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)563-566
Number of pages4
JournalAnnals of Allergy
Volume71
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1993

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ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy

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Atkinson, D. A., Sim, T. C., & Grant, J. A. (1993). Sodium metabisulfite and SO2 release: An underrecognized hazard among shrimp fishermen. Annals of Allergy, 71(6), 563-566.