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13 May 2013
Suicide rate around power plants raises concerns

Scientists from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center say that suicide, while strongly linked to psychiatric conditions, also correlates with environmental pollution. The new findings appear in the Journal of Mood Disorders.

For the study, researcher John G. Spangler evaluated air level contaminates in 20 North Carolina counties where coal-fired electricity plants existed as well as U.S. Census mortality rates.

The study found that for each additional coal-fired electricity plant per N.C. county, there were about two additional suicides per 100,000 population annually per county. When applied to the state's population (as at 2000) of 8,049,313, this equals to about 3,200 suicides a year associated with coal-fired electricity plants.

While prior research has evaluated the association between environmental contamination and mood disorders and suicide, coal emissions have not been looked at in this fashion. "This is the first study to show that the existence of coal-fired electricity plants is related to population-level suicide rates. Because suicide might be associated with environmental pollution, this study may help inform regulations not only of air pollutants, but also of coal-fired electrical power plant emissions," said Spangler.

"The presence of a coal-fired electricity plant correlated with airborne levels of nickel, mercury, lead, chromium, cadmium, beryllium and arsenic," Spangler noted. "Further research is needed to understand what factors related to coal burning actually are at play and suggest that tighter regulation of coal-fired power plant emissions might cut down on county suicide rates in North Carolina."

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Source: Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center

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