Suicide linked to air pollutants, preliminary U. study says

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SALT LAKE CITY — Exposure to air pollutants may increase the risk of someone committing suicide, according to a preliminary study from the University of Utah.

The odds of committing suicide were 20 percent higher for individuals who were exposed to increased levels of nitrogen dioxide, an air pollutant found in car emissions, in the three days before they took their life, according to the study. Researchers examined suicide data collected from 2000 to 2010 in Salt Lake County.

Lead author Amanda Bakian said the preliminary findings suggest higher levels of pollution may interact with other factors to increase the risk of suicide.

“Suicide is a very complicated health condition and there are a lot of different factors involved,” she said. “We know that there are meteorological factors involved, that there are other biological factors, there are life stressors, there are genes involved, and we’re just starting to try to understand what the physical, chemical and biological factors are.”

Researchers examined the relationship between suicide and four different pollutants for the study. Nitrogen dioxide had the strongest association with suicide; people who were exposed to increased levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) also experienced 5 percent higher odds of suicide, according to their findings.

Suicide is a very complicated health condition and there are a lot of different factors involved.

–Amanda Bakian

The researchers were prompted to look into the relationship between air pollution and suicide after seeing studies from Asia that found an association between the two. They said the findings from the data in Utah appeared to be similar.

“They are finding consistent patterns despite the very different geographical, meteorological, and cultural characters of these locations,” Bakian said.

However, researchers said they were surprised to find the association between high levels of air pollution and suicide seemed highest in the spring and fall. Even though there are peak pollution events during the winter because of the inversion, Bakian said people can experience high levels of pollution during other seasons depending on factors like how close people are to major roadways.

Utah has the seventh highest rate of suicide, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Suicide is also the eighth leading cause of death in the state.

Data for the study was obtained from the Utah Department of Health’s Office of the Medical Examiner. Information from 1,546 suicides were examined by researchers.

Bakian presented her findings at the American Association of Suicidology in Los Angeles on Friday. The study is currently being reviewed for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

The University of Utah has provided funding for the researchers to look at the association between suicide and air pollution more in depth.

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