Terrible Twist in Japan Suicide Spates

Suicidal man's toxic vomit clears ward, sickening many in Japanese hospital.

ByABC News
May 22, 2008, 7:21 AM

TOKYO, May 22, 2008 — -- Japan's recent series of suicides took a new twist today.

A 34-year-old farmer trying to kill himself by drinking pesticide was rushed to a hospital in southern Japan, Wednesday night, where workers feverishly pumped his stomach in an attempt to save his life.

But the man threw up inside the hospital, releasing toxic fumes that sickened more than 50 people, including doctors, patients and hospital workers.

The man later died.

At least 90 hospital personnel had to be called in to help with the emergency, said Tomoko Nagao, spokeswoman for the Red Cross Kumamoto Hospital in southern Japan.

The man's toxic vomit contained chloropicrin, officials say, a highly volatile pesticide with a pungent odor that can cause breathing difficulties and sometimes death when inhaled in large amounts.

Seishi Takamura, a doctor who treated the farmer, said he could not stop coughing after inhaling the fumes, which smelled like chlorine, Kyodo News agency reported.

A different kind of toxic gas suicide has made headlines recently across the country. More than 130 people have killed themselves by mixing store-bought detergent and chemicals.

The volunteer staff at the Suicide Prevention Center in Tokyo spent this year's "golden week" holidays in early May taking many calls from those who wanted to kill themselves.

"We set up a special hot line during golden week this year," said Yuzou Kato, the director of the center, referring to the popular annual bash of four national holidays packed into a single week. "We wanted to put a stop to the increasing number of gas suicides, which have been spreading all over Japan."

The Japanese epidemic of suicides has become particularly lethal in the last year with the introduction of a new method: mixing store-bought detergents and chemicals to create toxic hydrogen sulfide gas. The gas almost always kills and sometimes the victims of the poisonous fumes are passers-by or rescue personnel.

Japan's Fire and Disaster Management Agency said 145 such suicide cases have been reported in the last few months, killing 136 and injuring 188 others. Kato said many callers had started to talk about this gas method in the last year.

"This is fairly a new method of suicide, and people seem to learn about it through the Internet," Kato said. "What is scary about this type of suicide is the powerful gas fumes can easily kill passers-by and rescuers. As they try to kill themselves with this type of gas, they can easily kill innocent people."

Early this month in northern Japan, about 350 neighbors had to seek shelter at a nearby school playground as a 24-year-old man mixed the concoction in his house and killed himself. The man died and his mother, who tried to help him, inhaled the gas and became unconscious.

Last month, the Peninsula Tokyo hotel had to evacuate guests from a few floors as one of their guests attempted suicide by generating hydrogen sulfide in his hotel room.

Firefighters who tried to rescue the man found a few bottles of detergent and chemicals -- all of which can be purchased at stores. The man also left a note on a chair in his room warning of the toxic gas in his room.

Japan already has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. The number of suicides reached 30,000 in 1998 and has not gone below that number for nine consecutive years.