Suicide from coal inhalation spreads in Shanghai

The results of one of the first in-depth studies on carbon monoxide poisoning in Shanghai shocked researchers  after they discovered a sharp increase in the number of people committing suicide by smoke inhalation from burning coal.

The 10-year study saw the number of annual suicides from this method jump from 0 to 25 over the course of the research, attributing the trend to a copycat effect spread by media reports.

Studying detailed police records of carbon monoxide deaths in Shanghai’s Pudong district between 2005 and 2014 and comparing them to a similar study in Wuhan, capital of Hubei province,   legal physicians from the Shanghai Public Security Bureau observed a growing number of suicides by burning coal and suffocating from the toxic fumes.

According to the study, the first observed  instance of suicide via this method did not appear in Shanghai  until 2007, three years after the study began.  Prior to 2010,  six instances had been reported, but all were committed by people non-native to Shanghai, two from Hong Kong and four from other parts of mainland China.

In 2010, five years after the study began, the first native Shanghai resident was found to have committed suicide using carbon monoxide poisoning through burning coal.  The first Wuhan native was not identified using this method until 2011.

The trend peaked in 2013, with 25 cases recorded throughout the year in Wuhan and Shanghai.

“Based on these findings, it can further imply that coal or charcoal burning was not a common method used for suicide in the Mainland China originally; but gradually, the Mainland Chinese started to employ this method,” the study, Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Deaths in Shanghai, China: A 10-Year Epidemiological and Comparative Study with the Wuhan Sample, said.

The study also discovered the major source of carbon monoxide deaths in Shangai were due to gas leaks from faulty gas heaters, which accounted for around 62.5% of the accidental non-fire related fatalities.

“In order to reduce the mortality rate due to gas showering accidents, a national standard on the installation of gas showering heater should be registered and strictly enforced,” it said.

On a global scale, the number of deaths due to carbon monoxide poisonings in the two cities were below average, with .492 per 100,000 people in Wuhan and .349 in Shangai, compared with Belgium’s rate of .38.  The number was much lower than other countries such as the United States or other European countries, the report said.

“This study is considered the most comprehensive epidemiological study on CO poisoning deaths in the Mainland China thus far,” it said.

The study was published by the Cogent Medicine Journal on January 22, 2016.

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