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Increased suicide rate is possibly linked to chemicals released from nearby asphalt plants

CHAPEL HILL -- Exposure to low levels of hydrogen sulfide and possibly other airborne chemicals from nearby asphalt plants may have contributed to an increased suicide rate in a North Carolina community, a study suggests for the first time.

In 2003, the suicide rate in two Salisbury, N.C., neighborhoods was found to be 128 per 100,000 individuals a year, roughly 10 times the statewide average, as stated in community reports confirmed by death certificates for that year by the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL).

The studys lead author is Dr. Richard H. Weisler, adjunct professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, adjunct assistant professor of psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center and BREDL volunteer.

Other collaborators in this research were Dr. Jonathan R.T. Davidson, professor of psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center; Dr. Lynn Crosby, a toxicologist with BREDL; Lou Zeller, BREDL director; Hope Taylor-Guevera, director of Clean Water for North Carolina; Sheila Singleton, executive director of the N.C. Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance; and Melissa Fiffer and Stacy Tsougas, undergraduates at Duke Universitys Nicholas School of the Environment and BREDL summer interns.

The neighborhoods comprising two U.S. census tract block groups contained a total of 1,561 residents who were living immediately downwind from a liquid asphalt terminal; an asphalt hot-mix plant, which also contained a former N.C. Department of Transportation solvent-contaminated cleanup site where the DOT had previously dumped solvents used for testing asphalt; and a contaminated former petroleum tank farm.

Between 1994 and 2003, death certificate evaluations for the two Salisbury neighborhoods showed a three-fold statistically significant increase in the suicide rate, the study found. Four deaths by suicide in adults were repo
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Contact: L.H. Lang
llang@med.unc.edu
919-843-9687
University of North Carolina School of Medicine
10-Dec-2004


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