One of the most horrific of situations that can be faced at a residence is a violent or unattended death. Death scene restoration, or unattended death remediation, can be a truly challenging task. The recommended course typically is to engage the services of a death scene or unattended death cleanup specialist.
The specific circumstances in which death scene restoration or remediation occurs include the aftermath of a:
- Unattended death
An unattended death is not only one in which a person dies alone. An unattended death is a situation in which a person dies alone and whose body is not discovered promptly. As hard as this can be to imagine, in many instances, an unattended death isn’t discovered for not just a period of days, but weeks or even months.
Inherent Risks of Death Scene Restoration
When a person dies by suicide or homicide or dies an unattended death, the risk of exposure to hazardous pathogens exists. In other words, a person who comes into contact with this type of death scene runs the risk of being exposed to bloodborne biohazards that can include:
- Hepatitis B
- Hepatitis C
There are other types of pathogens that can be found at a death scene. In addition to pathogens that can exist in blood and bodily fluids, the possibility also exists that some biohazardous substances are airborne at certain death scenes. This particularly is the case at a scene involving an unattended death.
Four-Stage Process to Death Scene Restoration
When a professional is involved in a death scene restoration, a four-stage biohazard cleanup process typically is followed. These stages include:
- General cleanup
Undertaking this cleanup process necessitates the utilization of appropriate personal protective equipment. At a minimum this equipment includes:
- Mask or respirator
- Apron, uniform, or smock
The mask or respirator is utilized not only to protect a person from foul odors that can permeate this type of scene in some situations but to protect against airborne pathogens and splatter from biohazardous liquids.
Human Decomposition Process
There are many aspects of restoration that come into play at a death scene. Because this guidebook is focused on odor remediation, this type of remediation is the focus of this chapter. The challenges associated with death scene odor remediation (particularly in the case of an unattended death) stems from the nature of the human decomposition process itself. In order to understand death scene odor remediation, you need to have a basic understanding of the human decomposition process.
The human decomposition process begins directly upon a person’s death. At the center of decomposition is bacteria contained in the body. The pancreas and intestines particularly are the centers of bacteria in the human body that impact the decomposition process.
When a person passes on, blood flow stops throughout the body. This deprives bacteria of access to nutrients. As a result, bacteria begin to ingest organs and other parts of the body itself. This process is particularly evident in the pancreas and intestines. After a few days, these organs are all but fully consumed by bacteria, which causes the bacteria to release and course throughout the body.
As this process progresses, noxious smelling gases begin to build up in the body. With about a week’s time, gas starts escaping from the body. Six particularly noxious gases will pervade the death scene in a fairly short period of time:
- Cadaverine and putrescine (rotting fish odor)
- Skatole (feces odor)
- Indole (mothball-like odor)
- Hydrogen sulfide (rotten egg odor)
- Methanethiol (rotting cabbage odor)
- Dimethyl disulfide and trisulfide (foul garlic odor)
Remediating Death Scene Odors
Because of the virulent, pervasive nature of death scene odors, a full-frontal attack on them is necessary. This typically includes utilizing a broad spectrum of different types of odor elimination strategies that have been discussed in this guidebook. These include:
The remediation of foul odors associated with the death scene actually commences when the remains are removed and the initial cleanup stage is undertaken. Odor remediation further occurs during the sanitization stage itself.
If malodor is still detected after cleaning, sanitization and the use of the deodorization strategies and products delineated a moment ago, turning to the use of hydroxyl generator or ozone generator is sometimes the course pursued by a professional odor remediator. (Remember the legal and health issues associated with an ozone generator.)
In summary, when it comes to death scene restoration, including associated odor remediation, the challenging nature of the task warrants serious consideration of engaging the assistance of an experienced biohazard remediation specialist. This suggestion is made as a result of the risks involved in the remediation process itself and because of the challenging, complicated nature of successfully undertaking this type of restoration.