In Japan, it's called "detergent suicide." People take their own lives by inhaling a deadly mixture of chemicals, typically including hydrogen sulfide, in small, enclosed spaces such as cars or closets. At high enough concentrations, one breath can be lethal.
A few years ago, these chemical suicides were extremely rare. But they started occurring more frequently in Japan and began to make headlines there after a 14-year-old girl contaminated 90 of her neighbors when she took her life this way in 2008. Today, by some counts, more than 2,000 people have committed suicide in this fashion, and the number in the U.S. is on the rise.
Even though some who commit suicide in this way leave notes on car windows or front doors, such as, "Danger! Chemicals Inside, Call 9-1-1," first responders aren't always so lucky. So Morphix Technologies, already involved in detection devices for dangerous chemical gases, has developed a chemical suicide detection kit called Chameleon, which they put on the market this summer and announced this week.
The hands-free gadget clips to the forearm and can be worn over most hazard suits. The sensors change color to indicate the presence of toxic gases in the air, where others tend to only detect them in liquid or aerosol form. Its sensors look for high pH (base), hydrogen sulfide, low pH (acid), phosphine, and sulfur dioxide. Find distributors via the Morphix Web site; a company rep says the typical unit cost is $195.