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Suicide-Air Pollution Link?

Apr. 17, 2015|688 views
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Disturbing evidence has emerged suggesting that exposure to air pollution may raise the chances that a person will attempt suicide. Researchers at the University of Utah have been investigating this unusual and unexpected consequence of poor air quality. Surprisingly, they think they’ve discovered a link between exposure to common air pollutants, such as nitrogen dioxide and fine particulates, and the likelihood that a person will commit suicide.

Even short term exposure appeared to increase risk, especially among men and those aged 36 to 64. "We are not exactly sure why risk of suicide was higher in these two groups but suspect that it might be because these two groups were either exposed to higher levels of air pollution or that other additional factors make these two groups more susceptible to the effects of air pollution," said Amanda Bakian, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Utah.

For people exposed to nitrogen dioxide in the three days before a suicide attempt, there was a 20% greater chance that they would “complete” the self destructive action. Exposure to fine particulates boosted suicide risk by about 5%.

"Our next step is to determine in more detail exactly what elements—such as genetic and sociodemographic factors—are responsible for increasing one's vulnerability to suicide following air pollution exposure,” said Bakian. Dr. Bakian carefully avoids saying that air pollution itself causes suicide, but she suspects these airborne toxins interact with other existing factors to increase a susceptible person’s risk. Men are already about three times more likely to commit suicide than women, according to research published by other researchers.

In related news, British researchers reported recently that air pollution at red lights is significantly greater than elsewhere on the road. Although drivers spend just two percent of their driving time going through intersections, waiting at stop lights accounts for up to one quarter of their exposure to potentially dangerous pollutants.

"Air pollution was recently placed in the top ten health risks faced by human beings globally, with the World Health Organization linking air pollution to seven million premature deaths every year," said lead author, Dr Prashant Kumar, from the University of Surrey. The scientists recommend rolling up the windows, shutting off the fan, and stopping at least a car distance apart, to minimize your exposure at stop lights. 

A. V. Bakian, R. S. Huber, H. Coon, D. Gray, P. Wilson, W. M. McMahon, P. F. Renshaw. Acute Air Pollution Exposure and Risk of Suicide Completion. American Journal of Epidemiology, 2015; DOI: 10.1093/aje/kwu341

C. Crump, K. Sundquist, J. Sundquist, M. A. Winkleby. Sociodemographic, psychiatric and somatic risk factors for suicide: a Swedish national cohort study. Psychological Medicine, 2013; 1 DOI: 10.1017/S0033291713000810

Anju Goel, Prashant Kumar. Characterisation of nanoparticle emissions and exposure at traffic intersections through fast–response mobile and sequential measurements. Atmospheric Environment, 2015; DOI: 10.1016/j.atmosenv.2015.02.002


Tags:  prevention, chemicals beware, cancer risks