Chemical Suicides Create 2 Pennsylvania Hazmat Scares in 2 Days

PHOTO: A man committed suicide by mixing household chemicals in a tent in Thornbury, Pa., July 2, 2012.WPVI/ABC
A man committed suicide by mixing household chemicals in a tent in Thornbury, Pa., July 2, 2012.

Two men turned to the Internet when they wanted to end their lives this week. They didn't know each other, but both were in their 20s, both lived in Pennsylvania and both had mothers who paid a price in the end.

Only one of the men survived.

On Sunday morning, a Whitehall man in his 20s created a concoction of toilet bowl cleaner, shampoo and other household chemicals to create a fatally toxic gas, Whitehall Fire Department Chief Robert Benner told The man, whom police did not identify, then closed himself in his mother's garage and waited to die.

"It's unfortunate that they have to put it [suicide instructions] on the Internet," Brenner said. "People who have perhaps a mental problem see this stuff and try to end it all and make trouble for the people who have to get rid of it."

Beforehand, the Whitehall man posted a sign to warn first responders and family members of the poisonous gas -- instructions straight from Internet websites that teach life-weary web surfers how to mix the chemicals.

But the man did something wrong. Without enough sulfur, the mixture that should have killed him in seconds wasn't working. He called 911 to save himself.

The man survived and voluntarily committed himself to a 72-hour hospital program, Brenner said.

His mother was left with the cleanup bill, which totaled several thousand dollars, Brenner said, adding that crews initially refused to contain the toxic waste because the woman's credit card was almost maxed out.

About 36 hours later, another mother about 70 miles away nearly paid the price for her son's suicide with something she can't charge to a credit card: her life.

State police say a 28-year-old man in Delaware County mixed his own chemicals on Monday afternoon and zipped himself into a tent. Police would not say whether this man posted a sign outside the tent, but his mother didn't heed the warning if he did. She was trying to save her son, when chemical fumes overcame her, police said.

She was hospitalized, treated and released, but her son died from breathing in his homemade poison.

Medical professionals think household chemical suicides have become more prevalent in the United States since first cropping up in 2008, according to Dr. Nadine Kaslow, the chief psychologist at Emory University Medical School's department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences.

"And the numbers just keep going up all the time," she said. "There's sort of a sense that there's this chemical suicide phenomenon."

Around the time medical professionals and law enforcement started seeing chemical suicides in the United States, 208 of them were reported in Japan during a three-month period in 2008, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report. Researchers said they thought the spike was a result of instructions posted on the Internet.

Kaslow said she isn't sure why chemical suicides have become more common in the United States since then, but agreed the Internet is playing a role.

"There's a growing amount of information on what to do and the top household chemicals to kill yourself," she said.

The CDC did its own study, examining chemical suicides attempted in cars from 2006 to 2010 in 15 states. It found 10 suicides matching the criteria, and noted that 85 surrounding people had to be evacuated and 32 had to be decontaminated. Four officers were injured responding to the suicides.

Klaslow said chemical suicides aren't always attempted in cars, but first responders need to be careful because some chemical recipes produce colorless, odorless gases. Even giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation could be deadly, she said.

"You don't want the first responders to have to inhale the fumes," she said.