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Concentrations of cyanide in blood samples of corpses after smoke inhalation of varying origin


Cyanide (CN) blood concentration is hardly considered during routine when evaluating smoke gas intoxications and fire victims, although some inflammable materials release a considerable amount of hydrogen cyanide. CN can be significant for the capacity to act and can in the end even be the cause of death. Systematic data concerning the influence of different fire conditions, especially those of various inflammable materials, on the CN-blood concentration of deceased persons do not exist. This study measured the CN level in 92 blood samples of corpses. All persons concerned were found dead in connection with fires and/or smoke gases. At the same time, the carboxyhemoglobin (COHb) level was determined, and the corpses were examined to detect pharmaceutical substances, alcohol and drugs. Furthermore, we analysed autopsy findings and the investigation files to determine the inflammable materials and other circumstances of the fires. Due to the inflammable materials, the highest concentration of CN in the victims was found after enclosed-space fires (n = 45) and after motor-vehicle fires (n = 8). The CN levels in these two groups (n = 53) were in 47 % of the cases toxic and in 13 % of the cases lethal. In victims of charcoal grills (n = 17) and exhaust gases (n = 6), no or only traces of CN were found. Only one case of the self-immolations (n = 12) displayed a toxic CN level. The results show that CN can have considerable significance when evaluating action ability and cause of death with enclosed-space fires and with motor-vehicle fires.

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Correspondence to Simone Stoll.

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Stoll, S., Roider, G. & Keil, W. Concentrations of cyanide in blood samples of corpses after smoke inhalation of varying origin. Int J Legal Med 131, 123–129 (2017).

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  • Hydrogen cyanide
  • Smoke inhalation
  • Nitrogen-containing materials
  • Carbon monoxide
  • Soot