Corrosive Poisons: Sulfuric Acid (H2SO4) | Sign & Symptoms, Cause of Death, PM Appearences, Medico-Legal Importance

Sulfuric Acid Poisoning: Cause of Death, Signs & Symptoms by Forensic Yard (1)

In a pure state, Sulfuric acid is colorless, while commercial acid is brownish due to impurities. It is a dense liquid (twice as dense as water) with an acrid odor. It carbonizes organic substances.

The article contains signs and symptoms of sulfuric acid, Fatal dose, fatal period, diagnosis, cause of death, complications, PM appearances, Preservation of samples, Tests, Medico-legal importance. 

Additional information on sulfuric acid is that its management involves systematic ingestion, contact with skin and eyes. Observation of progress of injury due to sulfuric acid.

Sign and Symptoms of Sulfuric Acid Poisoning

1. Ingestion of Sulfuric Acid

  • Immediate ingestion causes burning pain in the mouth, epigastric pain, dysphagia, odynophagia (painful swelling), pharyngeal pain, salivation, stridor. 
  • It causes intense thirst, nausea, eructations, and vomiting.
  • Eyes get sunken, pupils become dilated, lips get swollen, teeth chalky white, and the tongue becomes black, sodden, swollen. 
  • The voice becomes hoarse and husky due to coincidental damage to the larynx during swallowing or vomiting. 
  • It causes severe constipation, and the mind remains clear till death. 

2. Contact with Eyes 

  • It can occur accidentally or intentionally, but sulfuric acid causes Conjunctivitis, Corneal edema and ulceration, Iridocyclitis, Necrotizing keratitis, and periorbital edema. 
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3. Contact with skin 

  • Sulfuric acid causes intense burning pain, immediate corrosion, destruction of the skin. 

Fatal Dose of Sulfuric Acid Poisoning

It is mostly dependent on concentration. About 5-10 ml of concentrated acid is sufficient for adults.

Fatal Period of Sulfuric Acid 

The average fatal period is 12 to 24 hours. 

Cause of Death Due to Sulfuric Acid

Immediate Causes

  • It causes circulatory collapse due to trauma from corrosive injury. 
  • Spasm or edema of glottis 
  • Perforation of stomach 

Delayed Causes

  • It causes Hypostatic pneumonia, renal failure, secondary infection, starvation due to esophageal structures. 

Complications Due to Sulfuric Acid

  1. Immediate: It causes Atelectasis, GI hemorrhage, obstructive lung injury, perforation, sepsis, tracheobronchial necrosis, and upper airway injury. 
  2. Late: It causes Esophageal strictures, pyloric stenosis, upper airway obstruction, vocal cord paralysis, and carcinoma. 

Post-Mortem Appearances of Sulfuric Acid Poisoning

It depends on the strength of acid, quantity of acid, and survival time of the patient.

External PM Appearences

  • Clothing- Acid burns and stains. 
  • Linear burns- Coursing down the angles of the mouth. 
  • Burns on the lip, chin, front of chest, hands 
  • Swelling of lips and mouth due to inflammation. 
  • Color of burnt areas- firstly grayish-white, then it becomes brown or black and leathery. 
  • It stimulates abrasion. 
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Internal PM Appearences

  • Esophagus- Perforation is rare. 
  • Stomach- Commonly corrosion and perforation. 
  • The stomach turns into a soft, spongy, black mass, which readily disintegrates when touched. 
  • If corrosion is absent the there is inflammation, swelling due to edema, and severe interstitial hemorrhages. 
  • Color of mucosa- Black and charred appearance. 

Preservations of samples 

  • Organs: Vitreous humor and lungs have to be preserved. 
  • Articles of clothing: It may reveal acid if accidentally spilled over them. 

Tests to Test Sulfuric Acid Poisoning

Litmus test

  • Suspected material + BaCl or BaNO3 produces White ppt of barium sulfate. 
  • Pour suspect material over organic matter (e.g., cotton) results in Charring. 
  • A suspected solution would turn blue litmus red. 

Medico-Legal Importance

  • Vitriol: it is throwing off a corrosive substance over the face of an adversary due to revenge or jealousy. 
  • Suicide: Sulphuric acid may be taken for suicide. Generally taken orally, but rectal administration has been described. 
  • Homicide: It can not be used for homicide because of its corrosive nature. Food gets charred when mixed with it. 
  • Sulphuric acid may be used for unlawful disposal of dead bodies after the murder
  • Sulphuric acid is used as an Abortifacient which is injected into the vagina for criminal abortion. 
  • 30-35% sulphuric acid is used as battery acid.
  • Women can also use it to defend themselves against sexual assault. 
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Diagnosis for sulfuric acid Poisoning

Vomitus: Add 10% barium chloride to Vomitus, which produces heavy white ppt (barium sulfate).

Conclusion 

Sulfuric acid is a highly corrosive chemical that is a severe explosive in concentrated form. It can irritate the nose, cause severe skin burns and throat, cause difficulties breathing if inhaled, burn the eyes and possibly cause blindness, and burn holes in the stomach if swallowed.

Sulphuric acid is a necessary commodity chemical. It is used to produce phosphoric acid and is also suitable for removing oxidation from iron and steel, so it is used in huge quantities by metal manufacturers. Sulfuric acid is a very hazardous chemical.

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