Hydrogen cyanide and carboxyhemoglobin assessment in an open space fire-related fatality.J Forensic Sci. 2021 May; 66(3):1171-1175.JF
Hydrogen cyanide (HCN) can be a major contributory factor in death from fire-related inhalation injury. Although carbon monoxide (CO) is considered the lethal agent of smoke in fires, its liability as a cause of death is sometimes debatable. The purpose of this report is to present the case of an 80-year-old man with locomotor disabilities who died due to an open space fire of vegetation debris and household waste in his yard. We evaluated here the concentrations of HCN and carboxyhemoglobin (COHb) and their contribution to the mechanism of death. In addition, the risk factors and the contributing effect of the factors that compose the complex toxic environment that develops in fires were discussed. COHb was determined by spectrophotometry as recommended by Katsumata et al. in 1982. HCN was determined with ninhydrin in postmortem blood samples after removal with 20% phosphoric acid and capture in a potassium carbonate solution. A toxic concentration of 1.3 μg ml-1 HCN and a lethal COHb level of 73.7% were determined in the blood samples. Although death was mainly attributed to CO poisoning and extremely severe burns in this open space burning case, the additive effect of HCN in the mechanism of death was also highlighted. The results suggested the possibility that the man's clothing may have played an important role in the production of HCN in this open space fire, as well as other types of garbage that were burned.