Quantitative speciation of volatile sulphur compounds from human cadavers by GC-ICP-MS


This work demonstrates the first forensic application of GC-ICP-MS for improved investigations of volatile organic compounds originating from a decomposing body. Volatile organic compounds were extracted from the headspace of human remains using sorbent tubes over a total time of 39 days. To account for naturally abundant species, control sites were prepared and sampled accordingly. All samples were spiked with an internal standard to minimise drift effects and errors during sample preparation and further analysis. Compound independent quantification was possible from a single chromatogram with a standard mix containing volatile pesticide compounds representing different mass fractions of target elements for calibration. Phosphorus, sulphur and chlorine were investigated as biologically relevant elements, which potentially form detectable volatile species during decomposition. The limits of detection of these elements in the headspace were 0.7, 5.4 and 1.6 ng/L, respectively. For sulphur, we identified abundant species which increased in concentrations of up to 1310 ng/L in the headspace above the remains. The concentrations were time dependent and show potential as forensic markers to determine post-mortem intervals or decomposition states. The universal quantification, standardisation and the high sensitivity of GC-ICP-MS augments traditional GC-MS analyses.
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