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Nitrous Oxide Determination in Postmortem Biological Samples: A Case of Serial Fatal Poisoning in a Public Hospital

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In a public hospital, eight cases of fatal poisoning by nitrous oxide (N2O) occurred under oxygen administration, due to an erroneous swapping of the lines in the gas system. The aim of the study was to clarify the factors involved in asphyxia by characterizing gases from different lines and measuring N2O concentrations in postmortem biological samples from bodies exhumed. Analyses carried out on the gas system confirmed the erroneous substitution of O2 line with N2O and air line with O2. Consequently, high N2O amounts were revealed in several tissues and gaseous biological samples. All specimens were analyzed by headspace gas chromatography technique. A rigorous quantitative analysis was possible only in blood (11.29–2152.04 mg/L) and urine (95.11 mg/L) and in air samples from stomach and trachea (from 5.28 to 83.63 g/m3). This study demonstrates that N2O can be detected in biological samples even 1 month after death.

Keywords: accidental death; asphyxiation case; biological samples; forensic science; forensic toxicology; nitrous oxide

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Internal Medicine and Public Health, University of Bari, 70124 Bari, Italy. 2: Laboratory of Industrial Toxicology, Department of Clinical Medicine, Nephrology and Health Sciences, University of Parma, via Gramsci 14, 43100 Parma, Italy.

Publication date: January 1, 2010


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