Sunday, April 13, 2014

Air Pollution: More Deadly than you think.


A growing body of scientific evidence suggests that breathing bad air can heighten the probability of suicide. The latest evidence comes from pollution-plagued Salt Lake County.
Saying “it’s so smoggy I could kill myself” may seem as flippant as uttering “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.”

But it’s not.

Four years ago, Asian researchers reported links between air pollution and suicide rates in South Korea; and between air pollution, asthma, and suicides in Taiwan. Now, University of Utah scientists say they have uncovered similar links in pollution-prone Salt Lake County.

Delegates who have gathered in Los Angeles for the American Association of Suicidology’s annual get-together will hear this evening about the unpublished research, which compared the timing of 1,500 suicides in the Beehive State with air quality data.

Suicide can be difficult to talk about, but it’s America’s 10th leading cause of death. It’s the eighth-leading cause in Utah, home to some of the nation’s smoggiest cities. Earlier this year, the pollution problem prompted a 5,000-person protest outside the state’s capitol building. (Fun fact: The biggest air polluter in Salt Lake Valley is a copper mine operated by Rio Tinto—and an executive of that mine chairs Utah’s air quality board.)

“We found an association between air pollution exposure and suicide risk,” says Amanda Bakian, an assistant professor in the university’s psychiatry department who was involved with the research. “Our study wasn’t designed to test for causality. It was designed to assess whether or not there is a correlation.”
Bakian and her colleagues found that the odds of committing suicide in the county spiked 20 percent following three days of high nitrogen dioxide pollution—which is produced when fossil fuels are burned and after fertilizer is applied to fields.

They also found that Utahans were five percent more likely to kill themselves following three days of breathing in air laced with high levels of fine particulate matter, also known as soot.

“To our knowledge, this is the first U.S. based study to identify a link between transient air pollution exposure and suicide risk,” the scientists wrote in an abstract for the conference. “A similar relationship may exist in U.S. populations but has yet to be examined.”

The timing of some of the county’s suicide spikes was puzzling. Despite the wintertime arrival of the worst annual bouts of air pollution in Utah’s montane valleys, including Salt Lake Valley, suicides were more likely to follow several days of bad air in the spring.

“We were surprised to find that the association between air pollution and suicide risk was strongest in the spring,” Bakian says. “This might have resulted from an interaction between air pollution and other spring time risk factors for suicide, such as mood disorders, pollen, and increasing durations of sunlight.”

The United Nations recently concluded that air pollution has become the world’s largest single environmental health risk, killing an estimated seven million people in 2012. Findings by Bakian’s team, and by the researchers who studied links between pollution and suicide in Taiwan and South Korea, suggest that the world’s filthy air could be even more lethal than that.
 
John Upton is a freelance journalist based in India. He has written recently for Vice, Slate, Nautilus, Modern Farmer, and Audubon magazine. 

14 comments:

Gina May said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gina May said...

The findings in this article are quite puzzling. I’m still struggling to process the fact that air pollution might be associated with suicide. One part of the article that I found especially disturbing is that air pollution killed "an estimated seven million people in 2012." I also found it bizzare that the link between air pollution and suicide was the strongest in the spring season, a time where I would think people are genuinely happier. Honestly I believe that air pollution might just be a contributing factor to an already distressed human being, that just pushes them over the edge. I will be curious to read about future studies and findings that link air pollution to suicide.

Anonymous said...

Air pollution is a direct cause of asthma and other serious respiratory diseases. It makes day to day life more difficult and in extreme cases even death. It is interesting that air pollution also has an effect on the suicide rate. This should serve as even more motivation to decrease the amount of pollution and better the air quality. Human health and happiness is affected by the environment. We need to keep this in mind and make an active decision to change our ways and become a more sustainable society.

-Haylei P.

Nick Sollogub said...

I am sure that there are certain links between air quality and mood behavior. I can see it in myself as I move from one part of the country or world to another. If you are not getting the essential amounts of oxygen and you start taking in other pollutants it is easy to see how your mood and behavior could be altered. Now suicide is probably already an issue in these people that were counted in this study but at the same time it may have been the tipping point that caused them to go through with it. What grabs my attention most about this article is that the head of the air quality has his hand in the biggest contributor of polluters in the state. This is not surprising because the government always has its bad eggs washing each others hands, but nobody seems to do anything about it. Perhaps we should move all the corrupt government officials to areas with bad air quality and burn fossil fuels and spread fertilizer and step back and watch to see if this study holds true under those conditions with those variables.

Leah DeEgidio said...

I have never heard of a direct relationship between air pollution and suicide. It is widely known that air pollution can cause respiratory problems in people who are constantly exposed to it. Our health is dependent on the state our environment is is and if the current environment is causing some people to commit suicide, we have bigger issues than i thought. The number quoted in the article accounting for the deaths in 2012 due to air pollution was the most startling to me. Seven million people in a year and these countries haven't cleaned up their act. It's sad and it can all be blamed on the corrupt government.

Apoorva said...

I think it is highly alarming about the findings. No one would have imagined that air pollution could cause a hike in the rate of suicides. However, I could relate this to cigarette smokers. I recently read somewhere that cigarette smokers are more anxious and agitated compared to those who do not smoke, when cigarettes are thought to be a 'relaxant'.
We fail to realize how badly air pollution affects us. Passive smoking is more dangerous than actual smoking. Also the increase of cars and industries has added to the air pollution gradually. This is a call for alarm to those of us who fail to realize the gravity of the situation.

Anonymous said...

I think that it's disturbing to find that air pollution could be related to suicide rates. It is yet another reason why we need to clean up our energy sources and make them more friendly to the environment; it's not only killing our environment, but killing the people around us in numerous ways. It's already disturbing that pollution from energy sources can cause respiratory disease and cancer, but now suicide? It bears the question, how much is it going to take for humanity to realize that we need to clean up our act?

Leanna Molnar

Dylan Hirsch said...

The link between air pollution and suicide is interesting, but it shows how a problem like clean air effects one's ability to be healthy and happy. The extreme distress experience by those exposed to air pollution can overwhelm some individuals to the point of suicide. With other economic and social conditions, air pollution might juts be what pushes the individual over the point of no return. This study shows that the rights to clean and healthy environment trump over the rights of industry to pollute the air.

-Dylan

Anonymous said...

Linking suicide to air pollution is something I thought i would never hear and after reading this article I am not 100% convinced but it does seem to make sense. Most people know of the health effect that come with air pollution and most effects are physical but maybe it is psychological too? Whether or not air pollution has a direct effect on suicide rates, it should be even more clear to people that pollution is harmful. Hurting our environment is one thing but when our personal health is involved, it becomes an even bigger problem for some people. I am interested to see what comes out of these finding but, as I have said, whether or not the two are related, air pollution must be stopped.

Kaylee Looper

Melis Temelli said...

This post was also an interesting one telling about the psycho-suicidal dimensions of air pollution. I know that air pollution is one of the most serious risks we encounter today. However I was not aware of its relation make people more prone to commit suicides. This might be due to two factors triggering each other: Firstly polluted air leads to a lower quality life causing many serious risks through breathing and being exposed to the polluted atmosphere. Secondly, The negative psychological environment created by the polluted air leads people to become more pessimistic about life. As a result, people are less hopeful of their present and future lives, and they may choose to end it more easily. Given that the post was mostly focused on Utah and other U.S. towns (in addition to South Korea), I do not think that the situation is very different in other parts of the world. Moreover, I think that industrially developed countries (such as the U.S.) are exposed to fewer risks compared to underdeveloped and developing economies. This is an externality caused by industrialization. And it should be the companies that are focused on the industrial processes who has to be in charge for the consequences.

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