Many people throughout the Western world die every year as a result of breathing in toxic gases, which cause their lungs to fail or their hearts to go into cardiac arrest. These gases, which are found not only in industrial environments but also in nature, can be odourless, colourless and generally for the most part undetectable to the human eye and nose.
Carbon Monoxide poisoning is a common way in which many people die. Not only is it something found in nature as the result of incomplete combustion of wood or coal but it is also present in the fuel we burn to run our motor vehicles.
Indeed Carbon Monoxide poisoning is one of the common causes of suicide. Imagine if you will the scene we have all witnessed on television or in the movies when the suicidal individual feeds a hose through their car window and starts the ignition, the hose attached to the exhaust outside. This may sound whimsical and the stuff of television legend but it is something that many people try and succeed in killing themselves doing.
Again, Carbon Monoxide is colourless and odourless and is in the air all around us when we travel to and from work be it on public transport or in our own vehicles: however given the other elements that go to make up our atmosphere Carbon Monoxide only makes up a small percentage unless it is pumped directly into an enclosed space.
Hydrogen Sulphide is a toxic gas commonly known as ‘sewer gases’. These gases – once again colourless – take on the smell of rotten eggs but after a while they cause those breathing them in to lose their sense of smell and ultimately they begin to believe that the gas has gone. Hydrogen Sulphide counteracts oxygen and causes asphyxiation.
Other gases are given off by solvents and can cause serious medical problems if not death if inhaled over a period of time. These solvents such as Kerosene, petrol, paint strippers and degreasers all give off gases and if these gases are expelled in an enclosed area they too can cause death by asphyxiation.
Toxic Gases and Crime
A pathologist will be able to tell if an individual has died as a result of any of these gases being inhaled by the colour of the deceased’s blood. This normally dark purple liquid will appear bright red and also lividity in the body is altered too.
Also in instances where perhaps cyanide gases have been released – and normally this will be accidental – the pathologist if he is predisposed should be able to smell the faint smell of almonds on or around the victim’s body.
Cyanide prevents the body from using oxygen thus bringing about asphyxiation, which can happen in a very short space of time given the levels of the gas released. As you doubtlessly are already aware in some states of the Americas inmates on Death Row will be gassed in airtight chambers using cyanide in tablet form that is dropped into a water solution.
When investigating a crime scene where gas is suspected of being the culprit it is essential that the scene has been secured by experts trained in Bio Hazard scenarios before any other personnel are allowed to enter.