Title

Forensic Soil Effects and Chemistry of a Corpse Burning Site

Presenter Information

Megan McCallum

Presentation Type

Poster

Abstract

The chemical by-products of combustion of wood are well characterized and are therefore identifiable in a forensic fire investigation. Sledzik et al. (2009) describe the recovery of human remains from the 9/11 World Trade Center disaster, the nearly simultaneous attack on the Pentagon, and the related airliner crash in Pennsylvania. Many human remains associated with these events were fragmentary and burned. It has long been suspected that in these types of scenarios that some human remains are not identified or recovered because they have been entirely consumed in high temperature fires. It might be possible to identify the location where a human body or body part is suspected to have been burned by analysis of the soil or other substrate at the location. In forensic taphonomy, a pig is often used as a proxy for a human body due to their size, diet, and lack of hair. In this study, a 130 lb. pig carcass was burned in an outdoor wood fire to ash and bone fragments. A similar control fire using the same fuels was also conducted. The ashes for each fire were sampled and analyzed for total carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur with a LECO CNS analyzer, and an array of 20 other elements by acid digestion, and inductively coupled plasma spectrometer (ICP). The pig carcass fire contained higher levels of sulfur and nitrogen. The results of this experiment provide some insight as to what forensic information can be obtained from the site of a body burning.

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Apr 13th, 3:00 PM Apr 13th, 4:00 PM

Forensic Soil Effects and Chemistry of a Corpse Burning Site

UC Ballroom

The chemical by-products of combustion of wood are well characterized and are therefore identifiable in a forensic fire investigation. Sledzik et al. (2009) describe the recovery of human remains from the 9/11 World Trade Center disaster, the nearly simultaneous attack on the Pentagon, and the related airliner crash in Pennsylvania. Many human remains associated with these events were fragmentary and burned. It has long been suspected that in these types of scenarios that some human remains are not identified or recovered because they have been entirely consumed in high temperature fires. It might be possible to identify the location where a human body or body part is suspected to have been burned by analysis of the soil or other substrate at the location. In forensic taphonomy, a pig is often used as a proxy for a human body due to their size, diet, and lack of hair. In this study, a 130 lb. pig carcass was burned in an outdoor wood fire to ash and bone fragments. A similar control fire using the same fuels was also conducted. The ashes for each fire were sampled and analyzed for total carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur with a LECO CNS analyzer, and an array of 20 other elements by acid digestion, and inductively coupled plasma spectrometer (ICP). The pig carcass fire contained higher levels of sulfur and nitrogen. The results of this experiment provide some insight as to what forensic information can be obtained from the site of a body burning.