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Geospatial Health


Department of Earth Sciences


Therapeutic dosages of lithium are known to reduce suicide rates, which has led to investigations of confounding environmental risk factors for suicide such as lithium in groundwater. It has been speculated that this might play a role in the potential relationship between suicide and altitude. A recent study in Austria involving geospatial analysis of lithium in groundwater and suicide found lower levels of lithium at higher altitudes. Since there is no reason to suspect this correlation is universal given variation in geology, the current study set out to investigate the relationship between altitude and lithium in groundwater in the United States of America (USA). The study utilised data extracted from the National Water-Quality Assessment programme implemented by the United States Geological Survey that has collected 5,183 samples from 48 study areas in USA for the period of 1992 to 2003. Lithium was the trace-element of interest and 518 samples were used in the current analyses. Due to uneven lithium sampling within the country, only the states (n=15) with the highest number of lithium samples were included. Federal information processing standard codes were used to match data by county with the mean county altitude calculated using altitude data from the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission. The study was controlled for potential confounding factors known to affect levels of lithium in groundwater including aquifer, aquifer type, lithology, water level and the depths of wells. The levels of lithium in groundwater, increased with altitude (R2 = 0.226, P <0.001) during the study period. These findings differ from the Austrian study and suggest a need for further research accounting also for the impact of geographical variation.