CDC Tracking Growth in Chemical Suicides

An ATSDR analysis identified 10 incidents during 2006-2010 in six states. Nine people died and four law enforcement officers -- none of whom was wearing PPE when exposed -- were injured.

A CDC analysis of "chemical suicides," also known as "hazmat suicides," shows that 10 were reported in six states during 2006-2010, killing nine people and injuring four law enforcement officers who responded. None of those officers was wearing PPE, although two had received hazmat training, the authors reported in the Sept. 9 issue of CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

By contrast, 208 people killed themselves during a three-month period in 2008 in Japan by the same methods of mixing household chemicals breathing the resulting poisonous gas (usually hydrogen sulfide or hydrogen cyanide) inside an enclosed space. "The large number of similar suicides is believed to have resulted from the posting of directions for generating poisonous gas on the Internet," the authors noted.

Four of the 10 U.S. incidents occurred in 2009 and four more in 2010, which suggests this type of suicide is rising here; the authors say the number identified in the analysis may be an underestimate because only 15 states participated in the reportng systems that were utilized, and some suicides may go unreported or weren't found by the keyword search that was used.

Most U.S. suicides with this method occur inside cars. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry analysis looked at such incidents using 2006-2009 data from states participating in the Hazardous Substances Emergency Events Surveillance system and 2010 data from states participating in the new National Toxic Substance Incidents Program, which began that year.

The 10 incidents occurred in Connecticut, Florida, New York, North Carolina, Utah, and Washington. "Nine occurred in residential areas and four resulted in evacuation orders affecting 85 persons. Thirty-two persons were decontaminated. In addition to household cleaners (not otherwise specified), the following chemicals were used in the 10 incidents: ammonium hydroxide, aluminum sulfide, calcium hypochlorite, calcium sulfide, germanium oxide, hydrochloric acid, potassium ferrocyanide, sodium hypochlorite, sulfur, sulfuric acid, and trichloroethylene," the authors wrote, adding that the median age among the six victims for whom exact age was known was 31, and seven of the 10 victims were male.

The authors are Jennifer L. McNew and Sherry G. Rigouard, MPH, of the North Carolina Division of Public Health; Wanda L. Welles, Ph.D., and Rebecca Wilburn, MPH, of the New York State Department of Health; and Ayana R. Anderson, MPH, Maureen F. Orr, M.S., and D. Kevin Horton, DrPH, of ATSDR's Division of Health Studies. The recommend that responders arriving on the scene of a suspected chemical suicide assess the surroundings for potential indicators (e.g., posted suicide or warning signs, open containers indicating the presence of household chemicals, and taped doors and windows), call for assistance from the local hazmat team or other responders who are trained to handle hazardous materials, secure the area, keep ignition sources away, and wear PPE. Both victims and responders should be decontaminated at the scene to prevent further chemical-related injuries, and transport vehicles should be well ventilated to protect from accumulation of poison off-gassing from the victim. In addition, hospital personnel should be warned about the potential for exposure.

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