Chemical Suicide Displaces 20 in Md. Apartment

Sept. 03--One man is dead and 20 others displaced in what Anne Arundel fire officials are characterizing as a "chemical suicide" Tuesday afternoon at a Glen Burnie apartment building.

Firefighters were called to the Burwood Garden Apartments in the 6600 block of Shelly Road around 4 p.m. for a reported odor of natural gas. When firefighters arrived, they quickly detected sulfur in the apartment building, fire department spokesman Lt. Russ Davies said.

Firefighters investigated and located a first-floor apartment that the smell appeared to be coming from. Upon entering the apartment, firefighters discovered a sign on a bathroom door warning no one to enter without a hazmat suit, Davies said.

Inside the bathroom, firefighters found the body of a man estimated to be in mid-30s. As of Wednesday morning, fire officials were not releasing the man's identity.

Firefighters evacuated the building and notified the departments hazardous materials team. The first-floor apartment was found to contain lethal levels of hydrogen cyanide and hydrogen sulfide, Davies said.

Trace amounts of the chemicals, harmful with extended exposure, were found in the common areas of the apartment building, Davies said.

Two residents were taken to a local hospital -- one complaining about respiratory issues, the other for issues related to high blood pressure, Davies said.

Firefighters found nothing more than household chemicals inside the apartment. The hazmat team ventilated the building.

As of late Tuesday night, the levels of the chemicals in the air remained unsafe for habitation. The apartment complex's management made arrangements for the 20 people who had been displaced.

The department's hazmat team was planning to return to the site Wednesday morning. Fire officials expect the building would be rehabitable sometime during the day, Davies said.

The body of the deceased was taken to the Maryland Chief Medical Examiner's Office in Baltimore. Preliminary, the man's death does not appear to be accident and no foul play appears to be involved, Davies said.

Chemical suicide, the mixing of chemicals to cause asphyxiation, is a relatively new phenomenon among fire departments. County fire officials first became aware of the issue a few years ago, Davies said.

If ultimately ruled a suicide by the medical examiner's office, it appears it will be the first such recorded incident in the county, Davies said.

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