iconUnderstanding Decomposition & Remediation Roles


Unattended Death & Decomposition Cleaning

In the case of an ‘Unattended Death’, decomposition can occur in a very short period of time. People entering the property are confronted with a scene where strong vile odours have migrated throughout the home & contents. From what is known about human decomposition, two chemical odours are produced that are known to be hazardous to people, being Putrescine & Cadaverine.

Bacteria growth occurs within a few hours of death as the body breaks down, where the presence of these chemical odours highlights the risk of biological exposure to bacterial pathogens in the air & on surfaces.

To understand why bio-recovery services are required to restore a property & ensuring the safety of all concerned, we must appreciate natural decomposition occurs in a number of stages. Each stage presents varied degrees of complications & level of hazards within the property.

The decomposition process is actually divided into two processes, Autolysis & Putrefaction. Autolysis is where the cells of the body begin to break down, spilling their contents as the bodies’ own enzymes attack the cell walls of organs. In more humid environments this can occur in a very short time after death & continue for up to 7 days.

Putrefaction, on the other hand is caused by the growth of bacteria & fungi. Putrefaction bacteria such as Escherishia coli thrive under conditions being created during the Autolysis process. Even in cold environments, bacteria & fungi can multiply creating a very hazardous indoor environment. Certain fungal growth is also known to be carcinogenic to people.

The associated bacteria produce as byproducts, hydrogen, hydrogen sulfides, carbon dioxide, acids, alcohol & acetone, including the putrescine & cadaverine odours. Hence, toxic chemicals & bacteria not only become a health issue but can damage internal building structures.

Under normal house conditions, (22°C & normal humidity) the following stages of decomposition occur –

Day 1 – Death occurs – red to purple discolouration of the skin, hardening of muscles.

Day 2 – Green discolouration of the body

Day 3 – Skin Slippage, blood seeping from tissue

Day 4 to 6 – The body begins to bloat over next 2 days, facial tissue movement occurs, the body turns greenish black in colour, bacteria continue to cause bloating from the catabolism of amino acids.

Day 7 – Release of gas occurs, often with a purge of fluids into the surroundings.

Other factors that may increase the rate of decomposition & increase the risk to persons entering the property include,

  • High temperatures – increase the speed of stages of decomposition
  • Moisture or high humidity – allow for increased rate of bacterial growth
  • Oxygen levels – open air properties allow bacteria & fungi growth to continue unrestricted as a closed up property limits oxygen availability to bacteria
  • Pre-Existing Conditions – infection, bodily injuries, alcohol or drugs, poor hygiene & some foods increase the rate of decomposition.


The Forensic Cleaning Perspective 

On attending the scene of a human decomposition where several days have lapsed, the technician is often presented with a biological hazard where fluids (clear to coloured liquids) cause substantial property damage & may not be visible, having seeped into floor coverings, sub flooring, wall cavities, furniture & fixtures.

Bacterial odours are only managed by technicians wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) such as full face respirators with organic vapor and HEPA cartridges & protective disposable clothing. Visual aspects may be horrendous, often appearing as a pool of blood or dark staining material, as police contractors normally remove the deceased prior to arrival.

Technicians initially contain & collect obvious biological material, including bedding, linen, insect larvae, clothing, carpets, and often sections of lounges or other furniture. The next stage is to start the deodorization & cleaning process, which may involve the application of apparatus & machines designed to filter the air or ozone to sanitize the property.

The technicians major concern is always to identify & restore areas affected by bodily fluids that have migrated during the decomposition process. This is difficult as fluid movement is controlled by a number of factors, including gravity, porous structures & degree of saturation.

Often fluids flow through carpets & underlay, and permeate into tile & grout floors, moving into cavities & out of sight, without proper decontamination will continue to cause odour problems and remain hazardous.

Professional forensic cleaning companies use specialized equipment to collect fluids, deodourise, ventilate & sanitise, such as industrial steam cleaners, ozone generators, HEPA air filtration, chemical foggers & advanced sanitising treatments together with the lawfully disposal of all clinical waste under EPA guidelines to achieve a full property restoration.

The processes are not simple & require a trained & dedicated team to complete the service. We believe our experience within Emergency services & the restoration industry ensures properties are correctly assessed, managed & restored safely to protect your family & legal interest with the property, this is our commitment & guarantee to you & your family, without exception.

Categories: Forensic Cleaning

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