The Office of Fire Prevention and Control has recently assisted local authorities in two communities with suicides involving chemicals. This method of suicide, sometimes called detergent suicide, if frequently used in Japan and is being seen more frequently in this country. The process involves mixing common household chemicals to create hydrogen sulfide in a small space. Instructions to do this are readily available on the internet and most encourage anyone planning to use this method to provide appropriate warnings to people who might encounter or respond to their situation about the presence of the deadly gas. One incident in Japan took place in the bathroom of an apartment. Over seventy people in neighboring apartments were sickened by the fumes. In Arizona one individual manufactured hydrogen cyanide instead of hydrogen sulfide. This is the only instance of hydrogen cyanide I’ve been able to discover and suspect it’s rare because the chemicals needed for the reaction are not as readily available as those used to make hydrogen sulfide.
Our concern is that anyone who enters the space without proper protection may quickly become a victim themselves. Both recent incidents in New York involved suicides inside a vehicle. One vehicle had very clear and obvious warning signs taped to the window (as in Fig. 1 and 2), the other had signs that were less noticeable laid on the dashboard. In both instances responders were able to recognize the situation and take appropriate protective actions.
It is anticipated that the number of these incidents will rise as more people become aware of the process. The Office of Fire Prevention and Control has developed guidelines to deal with these incidents that I believe local responders will find useful in the event of a chemical suicide in their community.
The attached information is intended to serve as a model protocol. Local agencies may choose to alter these, or implement different policies, based on local training, resources and policies. The important point is that we should be prepared to respond safely to events of this nature. Please distribute this information to the responders in your community.