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Toxicologic Findings in the USS Iowa Disaster

NCJ Number
Journal of Forensic Sciences Volume: 37 Issue: 5 Dated: (September 1992) Pages: 1352-1357
R Mayes; B Levine; M L Smith; G N Wagner; R Froede
Date Published
6 pages
Toxicological results from 47 victims of the explosion on the USS Iowa show good correlation between carboxyhemoglobin (CO-Hb) saturation and cause of death.
All 47 victims were examined for carbon monoxide; blood was tested in 41 cases, while tissue fluid was analyzed in the remaining cases. All cases with appropriate specimens were screened for cyanide. In addition, specimens were examined for the presence of acetaldehyde, ethanol, acetone, 1-propanol, 2-propanol, 1-butanol, 2-butanol, isobutanol, and t-butanol by headspace gas chromatography with flame ionization detection. The following drugs were analyzed by a combination of gas chromatography, thin layer chromatography, or immunoassay: amphetamines, antihistamines, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, cannabinoids, cocaine and metabolites, lidocaine, methaqualone, narcotic analgesics, nicotine, opiates, phenytoin, sympathomimetic amines, and tricyclic antidepressants. Autopsies were begun within 48 hours after death and completed within 48 hours. Results showed no correlation between blood cyanide concentrations and cause of death. Volatile analysis suggested postmortem ethanol production rather than antemortem ethanol ingestion. Further, no drugs except nicotine were detected in any of the victims. Ten of the 47 victims had CO-Hb saturation values equal to or less than 10 percent, which is within normal limits. The low CO-Hb level suggested that these individuals died rapidly after the explosion and that the cause of death involved blunt force trauma injuries. The CO-Hb for 11 victims ranged from 33 to 64 percent saturation; the cause of death in 10 cases was attributed to fire, while the 11th death resulted from a mixture of blunt force trauma and thermal injury. Of 23 victims with CO-Hb saturation between 28 and 48 percent, the cause of death involved thermal injury, blunt force trauma, or a combination. 8 references and 2 tables