Last week, the Austin Fire Department responded to a reported gas leak in an Austin apartment building linked to the University of Texas. Instead, they found an apartment door with a sign reading “Danger: Watch out, hydrogen sulfide,” behind which they found the body of a young man who had apparently died of exposure to the poisonous gas. Six others were taken to the hospital and treated for non-life-threatening injuries, and five others were injured but refused treatment. AFD’s initial investigation determined that the deceased individual had released the gas in order to commit suicide.
Hydrogen sulfide, or H2S, is a colorless gas, sometimes known as “sewer gas” or “swamp gas,” which is recognizable by its “rotten egg” odor. It is highly poisonous–the CDC considers a concentration of H2S of 100 ppm to be an “immediate danger to life and health.” Exposure to concentrations over 700 ppm results in unconsciousness, cessation of breathing, and death within minutes, and concentrations over 1,000 ppm results in “nearly instant death,” according to OSHA. As its nicknames suggest, it naturally occurs in swamps and sewers. It is also found in volcanic gas and, most significantly in Texas, it naturally occurs in oilfields, where it is a common hazard. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, hydrogen sulfide caused 60 worker deaths in the U.S. between 2001 and 2010.
It is, fortunately, rare to encounter dangerous concentrations of H2S outside an oilfield or industrial setting. Tragically, however, the use of hydrogen sulfide in suicides is far from unheard of. In the first half of 2008, Wired reported that at least 500 Japanese men, women, and children committed suicide using the poisonous gas after following instructions posted on Japanese websites. Sadly, this “grisly fad,” known as “detergent suicide,” appears to have made its way across the Pacific.
It is, of course, the height of ghoulishness and irresponsibility to publish instructions for any method of suicide. It is even more outrageous to publish instructions on a method that endangers others, such as the use of hydrogen sulfide gas.
If you or someone you know has been injured after exposure to hydrogen sulfide or other poison gas, contact an attorney at Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Agosto, Aziz & Stogner by calling (713) 222-7211 or toll free at 713-222-7211.