Investigation of Postmortem Gases: A Forensic Imaging and Analytical Chemistry Approach


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Investigation of Postmortem Gases: A Forensic Imaging and Analytical Chemistry Approach
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23rd International Meeting on Forensic Medicine Alpe-Adria-Pannonia
Giuliani N., Egger C., Chevallier C., Dominguez A., Grabherr S., Varlet V.
Lausanne, Suisse, 26-28 juin 2014
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Background: Distinguishing postmortem gas accumulations in the body due to natural decomposition and other phenomena such as gas embolism can prove a difficult task using purely Multi-Detector Computed Tomography (MDCT). The Radiological Alteration Index (RAI) was created with the intention to be able to identify bodies undergoing the putrefaction process based on the quantity of gas detected within the body. The flaw in this approach is the inability to absolutely determine putrefaction as the origin of gas volumes in cases of moderate alteration. The aim of the current study is to identify percentage compositions of O2, N2, CO2 and the presence of gases such as H2 and H2S within these sampling sites in order to resolve this complication.
Materials and methods: All cases investigated in our University Center of Legal Medicine are undergoing a Post-Mortem Computed Tomography (PMCT)-scan before external examination or autopsy as a routine investigation. In the obtained images, areas of gas were characterized as 0, I, II or III based on the amount of gas present according to the RAI (1). The criteria for these characterizations were dependent of the site of gas, for example thoracic and abdominal cavities were graded as I (1 - 3cm gas), II (3 - 5cm gas) and III (>5cm gas). Cases showing gaseous sites with grade II or III were selected for this study. The sampling was performed under CT-guidance to target the regions to be punctured. Luer-lock PTFE syringes equipped with a three-way valve and needles were used to sample the gas directly (2). Gaseous samples were then analysed using gas chromatography coupled to a thermal conductivity detector (GC-TCD). The components present in the samples were expressed as a percentage of the overall gas present.
Results: Up to now, we have investigated more than 40 cases using our standardized procedure for sampling and analysis of gas. O2, N2 and CO2 were present in most samples. The following distributions were found to correlate to gas origins of gas embolism/scuba diving accidents, trauma and putrefaction:
? Putrefaction → O2 = 1 - 5%; CO2 > 15%; N2 = 10 - 70%; H2 / H2S / CH4 variable presence
? Gas embolism/Scuba diving accidents → O2 and N2= varying percentages; CO2 > 20%
? Trauma → O2 = small percentage; CO2 < 15%; N2 > 65%
H2 and H2S indicated levels of putrefaction along with methane which can also gauge environmental conditions or conditions of body storage/burial. Many cases showing large RAI values (advanced alteration) did reveal a radiological diagnosis which was in concordance with the interpretation of the gas composition. However, in certain cases (gas embolism, scuba divers) radiological interpretation was not possible and only chemical gas analysis was found to lead to the correct diagnosis, meaning that it provided complementary information to the radiological diagnosis.
Conclusion: Investigation of postmortem gases is a useful tool to determine origin of gas generation which can aid the diagnosis of the cause of death. Levels of gas can provide information on stage of putrefaction and help to perform essential medico-legal diagnosis such as vital gas embolism.
Forensic Medicine, Imaging
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09/07/2014 16:30
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20/08/2019 12:35
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