Be Aware of This New Trend
Two recent suicides in the US have brought a disturbing Japanese suicide trend to the media forefront. I must admit that I have some trepidation about posting this story. This seems like one of those things that becomes more popular the more it is reported. I’ve decided to write about this because I believe that, if this trend continues, sooner or later, an Emergency responder is going to get hurt. I think this info is worth passing on to other responders …. discretely.
Apparently, significant amounts of hydrogen sulfide can be created by mixing household detergents and liquid cleaners together. How much is significant? Enough to kill everyone in the room where the chemical is mixed, evacuate an apartment complex and send 10 other individuals to the hospital.
Some of these deaths have been linked to group suicide pacts. Most of the dead found the recipe in internet chat rooms and online suicide forums though the recipe was even published by Bloomberg at one point. (The media outlet later rethought the idea and removed the article from its online database.)
I consider myself fairly internet savvy and after a 15 minute search, the exact recipe to kill myself with hydrogen sulfide eluded me. I did find one source willing to name two specific products, but details regarding quantities and technique were mindfully absent. I wouldn’t say that the instructions for this type of suicide are “readily available” as some media outlets have claimed, but I’m certain that the information can be found by those suitably motivated to go forward with this plan.
The two incidents that occurred in the U.S. looked surprisingly similar:
A man was found in his car at the Cooper Branch day use area of Lake Allatoona. Bystanders who discovered the vehicle did not open the door because of a sign taped inside the window reporting “Caution” and the name of the chemical. The responding sheriffnoticed two buckets inside the vehicle with a yellow substance inside and a young man who did not appear to be breathing. County HAZMAT mitigated the scene and removed and deconed the body.
A 20 year old man parked his vehicle behind the Ethan Allen store on Rosemead Ave. and pasted a sign in the window of the vehicle warning others of “Danger” with a skull and crossbones. Inside the vehicle Hazmat crews found household cleaners along with the body of the victim. The victim was confirmed dead by the corner at the scene.
Both of these scenes involved victims who were willing to isolate themselves from the public and attempted to warn would-be responders of the danger. Two thoughts that I had while looking at these incidents were:
- This is a remarkably effective was to commit suicide. I haven’t found one report of someone doing this and failing in the Japanese incidents or the U.S. examples. Even if help arrived while the victim was still savable, the time it would take to respond Hazmat, remove the party and appropriately decon them would almost ensure that they would still be successful.
- There is just such a huge potential for would be responders to get hurt by blundering into one of these scenes. It seems far more likely that we will run serious secondary exposures from this kind of suicide than run on the actual suicidal party. The Japanese apartment complex incident certainly demonstrated that as well as the case of the father who died trying to rescue his son.
The big take home message here is maintaining that heightened sense of situational awareness. I know that it seems like we drill on that a lot but it seems like we just can’t say it enough. When we walk in on these party down calls we need to really pay attention to what’s going on around us. It’s not going to save us every time, but it certainly kept some of these responders out of trouble.
Be safe out there.
Addendum: After posting this I have become aware of one other event in the U.S. that was likely a hydrogen sulfide suicide attempt.
A young man was found by his mother in his bedroom with pans of chemicals. This time the patient only receive a cursory decon at the scene and shut down San Jose California’s busiest emergency room for five hours.
The author would like to thank EMT City user 4cmk6 for posting this to the news group.
Author update 3/20/09:
Since posting this piece I have moderated several comments from helpful readers providing the exact detailed recipe for creating hydrogen sulfide out of household chemicals. I’m now well aware of what products can be mixed to produce hydrogen sulfide gas in the proper lethal concentration.
If you are a public agency looking for more info on what household products may be used in this process feel free to e-mail me for further details. If you are in possession of this information I ask you to please not post it here. I would prefer this site to not contain detailed information that individuals could use to harm themselves and others. Thanks.