Spatial distribution analysis of strontium in human teeth by laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy: Application to diagnosis of seawater drowning

F.J. Fortes, M.D. Perez-Carceles, A. Sibon, A. Luna, J.J. Laserna, International Journal of Legal Medicine, 2015, 129, 807 – 813


The diagnosis of drowning can be extremely difficult, especially when the typical morphological signs of drowning are not present, or when the body is in an advanced stage of putrefaction. The main aim of this work is to demonstrate the applicability of laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) to the diagnosis of seawater drowning. Ten teeth samples were selected from eight medico-legal autopsies. A Nd:YAG laser operating at its fundamental wavelength (1,064 nm) was used to generate microplasmas at the sample surface. Strontium (Sr) concentration in tooth samples has been found to be a key factor for the diagnosis of seawater drowning. Spectral differences between the dentin and the enamel were observed. Greater Sr abundance was located in the dentin, with relative standard deviations in the range of 30 to 35 %. In addition, chemical images were generated to study the spatial distribution of Sr along the piece. In all cases, Sr content was higher when the cause of the individual death was drowning. A blind experiment was performed to exclude the possibility that the increase of Sr is due to passive diffusion in the blood. The detection of Sr as well as the determination of its distribution by LIBS in dentin seems to be a promising complementary tool for the diagnosis of death by seawater drowning.

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