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Q: smell of death ( Answered 4 out of 5 stars,   1 Comment )
Subject: smell of death
Category: Science
Asked by: kelkielea-ga
List Price: $10.00
Posted: 20 Dec 2005 00:28 PST
Expires: 19 Jan 2006 00:28 PST
Question ID: 607820
Hello, i work in a hospital and look after elderly people but when
they die they always have a certain smell about them, which people say
is the "smell of death" what exactly is this smell and where is it
from? is it because of organs failing etc? It is the same smell of
every patient ive had that has died. Im just curious. thanks Miche
Subject: Re: smell of death
Answered By: cynthia-ga on 20 Dec 2005 02:19 PST
Rated:4 out of 5 stars
Hi kelkielea,

Unusual, and interesting question! The smell people refer to when they
speak of the smell of death is comprised of many volatile organic
compounds, which are detailed below:

GC and the smell of death
..."They analysed the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) evolving from
two corpses by relatively simple methodology.

First of all, they remind us that the VOCs that constitute the smell
arise from the same sources in each human corpse. Carbohydrates in the
body break down to give mainly oxygenated compounds (alcohols,
aldehydes, ketones, acids, esters, ethers), proteins degrade to
nitrogen, phosphorus and sulphur compounds, nucleic acids from
nitrogen and phosphorus compounds and lipids decompose to nitrogen,
phosphorus and oxygenated compounds and hydrocarbons. So, in theory,
different decaying bodies should produce the same set of VOCs.....The
most abundant compounds were dimethyl disulphide, toluene, hexane,
1,2,4-trimethylbenzene, 2-propanone, 3-pentanone and 2-pentanone. The
relatively high levels of toluene were unexpected, leading the authors
to hint at the possibility of toluene poisoning of the victims. The
high number of fatty acid esters found was explained in terms of
saponification. Many hydrocarbons, aldehydes, ketones and alcohols
were also detected."

The smell of death
..."Bart Smedts of the Royal Military Academy?s chemistry department
in Brussels analyses soil and vapour samples from the burial grounds
of human and animal remains at various stages of decomposition. He has
determined a series of chemical signatures that reflect a sample?s
identity by measuring what he calls ?the traditional decomposition
gases? ? including sulfur dioxide, methane, benzene derivatives and
long chain hydrocarbons..."

This is interesting:

The smell of death - IDF uses chemical substances resembling stench of
dead bodies in simulation exercises,7340,L-3083875,00.html

I hope this satisfies your curiouslty!  If I can assist further,
please ask for a clarification.


Search terms used at Google:
"smell of death"
kelkielea-ga rated this answer:4 out of 5 stars
Really interesting answer. Thank you

Subject: Re: smell of death
From: ytchuan-ga on 14 Jan 2006 20:28 PST
My two cents.  I also worked in a hospital at some stage. While I do
agree about the smell of Death (which no doctor can answer my query at
that time), I also able to pick up strange 'sweet' smell when a person
was about to die or potentially fatal scenario, eg. Cardiac arrest,
impending cardiac arrest, or other POTENTIALLY fatal medical
condition.  The patients were still alive at the time.

If my observation was right, the smell would have been emitted before
decomposition took place.  However, smell of death and impending death
could be different which I have no recollection of.

At present day, I could have lost the ability.

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