Japanese Turning to Suicide by 'Detergent Death'

A Japanese girl gassed herself to death by mixing laundry detergents with cleanser.

A girl in Konan, Japan, gassed herself to death on April 24 by mixing laundry detergents with cleanser. The fumes sickened another 90 people in the apartment house. AP/Kyodo News hide caption

itoggle caption AP/Kyodo News

In the past year, some 300 people in Japan have killed themselves by deliberately mixing bleach with other household cleaners and then breathing the toxic hydrogen sulfide fumes.

BBC reporter Chris Hogg says 50 people in one month alone have killed themselves that way. The Japanese have been alarmed both by the ease of carrying out a "detergent death" and by the way the toxic gas can seep out and affect people living around the victim.

Last week, after a 24-year-old man committed suicide with the deadly brew, authorities had to evacuate 350 people in his Hokkaido neighborhood. On April 24, the suicide of a 14-year-old girl caused 70 neighbors in the same apartment house to fall ill.

Hogg says authorities have linked the problem to Web sites and online message boards where people discuss ways to commit suicide. Some of the online recipes describe detergent death as relatively painless.

"What's happened in the last few days is that the national police agency has urged Internet service providers to delete information from these Web sites about how to make hydrogen sulfide," he says. "For the first time, really, we're seeing authorities trying to act on this issue."

The ranks of detergent deaths come from the same demographic range as other types of suicides in Japan, Hogg says. Japanese people who kill themselves are often elderly and worried about burdening their families, but he says younger Japanese also turn to suicide.

"This is a society where this is enormous pressure on people," Hogg says. "And it's also not a Christian society. Because it's not a Christian society, in the moral code there aren't the same sanctions, if you like, against suicide. There is a long tradition of suicides in Japan, going right back to the samurai."

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