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