Chemical Suicides on the Rise, Pose Danger to Responders

Deborah Brauser

September 08, 2011

September 8, 2011 — Committing suicide by inhaling poisonous gas from a mix of household chemicals while in a confined space is a growing trend around the world and represents a danger to both responders and bystanders, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In the September 9 issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the CDC writes that a new analysis by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry found that 10 chemical suicide attempts while in cars occurred in 6 states between 2006 and 2010, resulting in 9 completed suicides and 4 injuries to responding law enforcement officers.

The trend is even more troubling given a recent study from Japan ( J Occup Med Toxicol . 2010;5:28) that found that 208 individuals committed chemical suicide during a specified 3-month period in 2008.

"The large number of similar suicides is believed to have resulted from the posting of directions for generating poisonous gas on the Internet," write the CDC in their report.

They note that lethal gas from these chemical mixtures can easily leak from confined spaces, so precautions should be followed by first responders, and the immediate areas often need to be evacuated to protect bystanders.

Dangerous, Growing Fad

In the new analysis, investigators evaluated data from 15 states that examined acute hazardous substance releases between 2006 and 2010, including 13 that participated in the Hazardous Substances Emergency Events Surveillance system and 9 that participated in the 2010 National Toxic Substance Incidents Program.

Results found that 1 incident of attempted chemical suicide was found in 2006, 1 in 2007, 4 in 2009, and 4 in 2010. They occurred in Connecticut, Florida, New York, North Carolina, Utah, and Washington.

The 4 injured police officers, which included 2 officers reporting respiratory irritation, did not wear personal protective equipment.

In addition, combined, 4 of the incidents resulted in the evacuation of 85 people and in 32 individuals being decontaminated.

Chemicals involved included ammonium hydroxide, hydrochloric acid, germanium oxide, sodium hypochlorite, sulfur, and potassium ferrocyanide.

The CDC writes that "the only other published report of chemical suicides in the United States" also showed that this trend is growing. It found that 75 chemical deaths involving hydrogen sulfide occurred during the years 1999 to 2010, including 2 in 2008, 10 in 2009, and 18 in 2010. Of the 30 suicides completed between 2008 and 2010, 80% occurred in automobiles.

"When initially arriving on the scene of a suspected chemical suicide, responders should asses the surroundings for potential indicators (eg, posted suicide or warning signs, open containers indicating the presence of household chemicals, and taped doors and windows)," reports the CDC.

In addition, the area should be secured by keeping away nearby individuals and any ignition sources, and the local hazardous materials (HazMat) team should be called in for assistance.

"First responders should always protect themselves and follow appropriate HazMat guidelines," adds the CDC.

Additional precautionary measures are listed in the original report, published on the CDC's Web site.

Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2011;60:1189-1192. Full text


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