Man commits rare 'chemical suicide' in Delco
The cases are known as "detergent suicides," "chemical suicides," or "hydrogen sulfide suicides" - references to a lethal mix of common household cleaners and a toxic gas they produce.
While such deaths are relatively rare, Delaware County authorities were recently called upon to deal with the situation - which can put rescue workers and others at risk when they also are exposed to the poisonous fumes.
On July 2, Daniel Hoertling, 28, of Thornbury Township, was found in a tent in a wooded area owned by the township, south of Cheyney University near Station Road. Hoertling left a suicide note that was automatically posted on a website.
"If you are reading this, I am dead. I have taken my own life," it read.
He described years of depression and loneliness, and his struggle with anorexia. He also described the mix he used to create the carbon monoxide gas that would kill him.
"Put it in a tent, take a nap. Done."Signs posted near his tent warned others away.
One trooper and a family member who did venture near the scene were sent to a hospital as a precaution but released soon after, said Rosemary McGuire, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania State Police.
According to a 2011 article in the Western Journal of Emergency Medicine, such deaths are well known in Japan, where more than 500 cases were reported between January and July 2008. In the United States in 2008 there were two cases, according to the journal, with 10 in 2009 and 18 in 2010.
Researchers found there were 45 unintentional deaths from such chemical mixing in the United States from 1999 to 2007.
In many cases, common household chemicals are used to create hydrogen sulfide.
"It is a very toxic type of gas," said Laura Labay, a forensic toxicologist with the National Medical Services Laboratory in Willow Grove. "Basically you don't get oxygen throughout the system."
Sense of smell is the first line of defense for those coming onto the scene, said Labay, who may encounter a rotten-egg odor. "If you get enough of it, it will just drop you."
At the Delaware County scene, hazardous material crews dressed in protective clothing and wore special breathing apparatus to decontaminate the area and the body before the victim could be sent to the medical examiner.
Even during the autopsy, precautions were taken, according to Medical Examiner Frederick Hellman. He wore a special suit with a face shield and respirator, and was monitored by a chemical detector during the procedure, he said.Results of the toxicology screening will not be known for six to eight weeks, said Hellman.
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