Volume 46, Issue 6 (November 2001)
Potential for Error when Assessing Blood Cyanide Concentrations in Fire Victims
The present study explores toxicologic significance of blood cyanide concentrations in fire victims. Headspace gas chromatography was used for cyanide detection. Analysis of blood samples from ten fire victims (postmortem interval = 8 h to 3 to 5 d) detected zero to 11.9 mg/L of cyanide and a large difference in cyanide concentrations among victims. Carboxyhemoglobin (COHb) saturation was in the range of 24.9 to 84.2%. To examine the effects of methemoglobinemia and postmortem interval on blood cyanide concentrations in fire victims, an experiment was carried out using rabbits as the animal model. The rabbits were sacrificed by intramuscular injection of 1 mL/kg 2% potassium cyanide 5 min after intravenous injection of 0.33 mL/kg of 3% sodium nitrite (Group A, n = 3) or physiological saline (Group B, n = 6). Average methemoglobin contents immediately before potassium cyanide administration were 6.9 and 0.8% in Groups A and B, respectively. Average cyanide concentrations in cardiac blood at the time of death were 47.4 and 3.56 mg/L, respectively. When blood-containing hearts of the rabbits (n = 3 for Group B) were left at 46°C for the first 1 h, at 20 to 25°C for the next 23 h and then at 4°C for 48 h, approximately 85 and 46% of the original amounts of blood cyanide disappeared within 24 h in Groups A and B, respectively. After the 72-h storage period, 37 and 10%, respectively, of the original amounts of cyanide remained in the blood. When the other three hearts in Group B were left at 20 to 25°C for the last 48 h without refrigeration, cyanide had disappeared almost completely by the end of the experiment. The present results and those published in the literature demonstrate that the toxic effects of cyanide on fire victims should not be evaluated based solely on the concentration in blood.