International Journal of Legal Medicine

, Volume 127, Issue 5, pp 923–930 | Cite as

Post-mortem detection of gasoline residues in lung tissue and heart blood of fire victims

  • Kevin Pahor
  • Greg Olson
  • Shari L. ForbesEmail author
Original Article


The purpose of this study was to determine whether gasoline residues could be detected post-mortem in lung tissue and heart blood of fire victims. The lungs and heart blood were investigated to determine whether they were suitable samples for collection and could be collected without contamination during an autopsy. Three sets of test subjects (pig carcasses) were investigated under two different fire scenarios. Test subjects 1 were anaesthetized following animal ethics approval, inhaled gasoline vapours for a short period and then euthanized. The carcasses were clothed and placed in a house where additional gasoline was poured onto the carcass post-mortem in one fire, but not in the other. Test subjects 2 did not inhale gasoline, were clothed and placed in the house and had gasoline poured onto them in both fires. Test subjects 3 were clothed but had no exposure to gasoline either ante- or post-mortem. Following controlled burns and suppression with water, the carcasses were collected, and their lungs and heart blood were excised at a necropsy. The headspace from the samples was analysed using thermal desorption-gas chromatography-mass spectroscopy. Gasoline was identified in the lungs and heart blood from the subjects that were exposed to gasoline vapours prior to death (test subjects 1). All other samples were negative for gasoline residues. These results suggest that it is useful to analyse for volatile ignitable liquids in lung tissue and blood as it may help to determine whether a victim was alive and inhaling gases at the time of a fire.


Fire investigation Ignitable liquid residues Accelerants Thermal desorption-gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (TD-GC-MS) Lung tissue Heart blood 



The authors would like to thank Eamonn McGee and Mike McVicar for their invaluable assistance with experimental design, method development and data interpretation, as well as other members of the Chemistry Section of the Ontario Centre of Forensic Sciences for their assistance during the sample analysis. The authors would also like to thank the Strathroy and Springwater Fire Departments for their volunteer services at the structural fires. This study was funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Strategic Grants Program.


  1. 1.
    National Fire Protection Association (2011) NFPA 921: guide for fire and explosion investigations. Orlando, FLGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Hine G (2004) Fire scene investigation: an introduction for chemists. In: Almirall J, Furton K (eds) Analysis and interpretation of fire scene evidence. Taylor & Francis, Boca Raton, pp 35–70Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    DeHaan JD (2007) Kirk’s fire investigation, 6th edn. Pearson Education, Upper Saddle RiverGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Pert A, Baron M, Birkett J (2006) Review of analytical techniques for arson residues. J Forensic Sci 51:1033–1047PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Rogde S, Olving J (1996) Characteristics of fire victims in different sorts of fires. Forensic Sci Int 77:93–99PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Gormsen H, Jeppesen N, Lund A (1984) The cause of death in fire victims. Forensic Sci Int 24:107–111PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Schuberth J (1994) Post-mortem test for low-boiling arson residues of gasoline by gas chromatography-ion-trap mass spectrometry. J Chromatogr B: Biomed Sci Appl 662:113–117CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Schuberth J (1997) Gas residues of engine starting fluid in postmortem samples from an arsonist. J Forensic Sci 42:144–147PubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Morinaga M, Kashimura S, Hara K, Hieda Y, Kageura M (1996) The utility of volatile hydrocarbon analysis in cases of carbon monoxide poisoning. Int J Legal Med 109:75–79PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Kimura K, Nagata T, Hara K, Kageura M (1988) Gasoline and kerosene components in blood—a forensic analysis. Hum Toxicol 7:299–305PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Takayasu T, Ohshima T, Kondo T, Sato Y (2001) Intratracheal gas analysis for volatile substances by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry—application to forensic autopsies. J Forensic Sci 46:98–104PubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    ASTM Standard E1618-11 (2011) Standard test method for ignitable liquid residues in extracts from fire debris samples by gas chromatography–mass spectrometry. ASTM International, West Conshohocken, PA. doi: 10.1520/E1618-11
  13. 13.
    Schoenly K, Haskell N, Mills D, Bieme-Ndi C, Larsen K, Lee Y (2006) Using pig carcasses as model corpses. Am Biol Teach 68:402–410CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Martinez M, Ballesteros S (2005) Investigation of fatalities due to acute gasoline poisoning. J Anal Toxicol 29:643–651PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Cox MJ, Hwang J, Himel H, Edlich R (1996) Severe burn injury from recreational gasoline use. J Emerg Med 14:39–43CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Stauffer E, Dolan J, Newman R (2008) Fire debris analysis. Academic, BurlingtonGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Gottzein A, Musshoff F, Madea B (2009) Qualitative screening for volatile organic compounds in human blood using solid-phase microextraction and gas chromatography–mass spectrometry. J Mass Spectrom 45:391–397Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of ScienceUniversity of Ontario Institute of TechnologyOshawaCanada
  2. 2.Ontario Office of the Fire MarshalMidhurstCanada
  3. 3.Centre for Forensic ScienceUniversity of Technology, SydneyBroadwayAustralia

Personalised recommendations