Suicidal thoughts more common among LGB people

Suicidal thoughts are more than twice as common for lesbian, gay and bisexual people as they are for their straight peers, a new study finds. 

Published in June in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, the study found that 13.4% of bisexual people and 11.4% of lesbian and gay people in England said they had thought about taking their own lives in the past year. In comparison, only 5% of heterosexual people reported suicidal thoughts. Suicide attempts were higher for lesbian, gay and bisexual people as well, reported the University College London researchers.

The study, which used data from two national surveys of people ages 16 and older, also examined discrimination. Lesbian and gay people reported the highest rate of being bullied during their lifetimes, at 51.7%, and of being discriminated against in the past year because of their sexuality, at 23.2%.

Similar disparities for suicidal thoughts by sexual orientation have been reported in the United States. Neither the U.S. or U.K. routinely collects data on sexual orientation when recording deaths, however, making it difficult to report actual numbers on suicides among LGBTQ+ people.

EPA proposes ban on PCE

The Environmental Protection Agency has added another chemical to a growing list of substances it wants to limit use of to protect public health.

On June 8, the EPA proposed an end to most commercial and all consumer uses of perchloroethylene. Also known as perc or PCE, the chemical is used in consumer products such as stainless-steel polish and adhesives, in commercial applications such as dry cleaning and auto repair, and in industrial processes.

While most of the bans would be in place within two years, the EPA proposed a 10-year phase-out of PCE in dry cleaning, allowing businesses time to switch to other processes. As of 2017, about 65% of U.S. dry cleaners used PCE as their main cleaning solvent.

The new rule would allow PCE use to continue in some industrial settings with strict controls, such as in the manufacture of hydrofluorocarbons that are used to create more climate-friendly refrigerants. 

Exposure to PCE has long been linked to serious health risks, including neurological damage and cancer. In December, the EPA ruled that the substance presents “an unreasonable risk of injury to human health,” clearing the way for the proposed ban.

Perchloroethylene is the latest chemical proposed to be banned by the EPA under the Toxic Substances Control Act, which gives the agency the authority to review and regulate chemical substances. In April 2023, the EPA proposed a ban on most industrial and commercial uses of methylene chloride, commonly used as a paint-stripper, and in April 2022, it proposed a ban on chrysotile asbestos, which has been used in auto brakes and gaskets, among other products.

Racial bias found in alcohol assessments

Black and Hispanic veterans are more likely to receive a diagnosis of alcohol-use disorder than white veterans, even when they consume similar levels of alcohol, new science shows. 

Researchers from the University of Kentucky and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs looked at data from 700,000 Black, Hispanic and white people enrolled in the VA’s Million Veteran Program. They found that Black men had the highest odds of being diagnosed with the disorder — up to 109% the rate of white men.

Because levels of alcohol consumption were similar among the three racial and ethnic groups, the higher rate of diagnosis points to bias among clinicians, according to the study, which was published in the June issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry. 

Whether the higher rate of diagnoses in Black and Hispanic patients translates into a greater likelihood of receiving treatment or having better health outcomes is not known, the researchers noted.

Alcohol-use disorder, defined as an inability to stop using alcohol despite its known negative consequences, is also commonly known as alcoholism. It differs from alcohol abuse, also known as problem drinking, which occurs when alcohol use leads to negative outcomes, such as job loss, relationship issues or health problems. 

Wildfire smoke exposure increases unequally

Exposure to heavy wildfire smoke has increased significantly in recent years for U.S. residents. But for the nation’s most vulnerable communities, it has increased even more, new research finds. 

Published in the June issue of the American Journal of Public Health, the study found that exposure to heavy wildfire smoke in the U.S. jumped 350% overall from 2011 to 2021. But the increase was not the same for all people.

Among communities with high rates of people of color and those who speak a language other than English, heavy smoke exposure rose by 449%. For those with poor housing or transportation, exposure increased 357%.

By geography, more than half of all U.S. counties experienced fewer days that were completely smoke-free during the study period, with western states experiencing the greatest increases. Idaho, Oregon and Washington had 339%, 340%, and 297% more heavy wildfire smoke days per year, respectively. However, states in the eastern U.S. also experienced significant increases, with heavy smoke days in Virginia jumping 233%.

States in the eastern and mid-Atlantic U.S. were exposed to record levels of smoke this month following wildfires in Canada.

Second cancers more likely to end lives of Black, Hispanic women

Black and Hispanic women who have survived breast cancer are more likely to die from second cancers than women from other racial and ethnic groups, a recent study finds. 

Researchers with Johns Hopkins University’s Kimmel Cancer Center examined data on 40,000 adult women who survived breast cancer, finding that compared to whites, death risk from a second cancer was 12% higher among Black patients and 8% higher among Hispanic patients. Black survivors with a second breast or uterine cancer and Hispanic survivors with a second breast cancer had the highest risk of death.

Women of color were also more likely to be diagnosed sooner with a second cancer than white survivors and at a younger age. Researchers suggested that social determinants of health, more aggressive tumors and type of treatment may play a factor in the disparities in deaths from a second cancer.

Previous research has found that second cancers occur in about 18% of breast-cancer survivors.

The Watch is written by Michele Late, who has more than two decades of experience as a public-health journalist.