Adipocere Removal from Human Skeletal Remains

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Obermeyer, Christa
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Adipocere is formed when water reacts with the fatty acids of the body to form glycerol and soap. It has a wax-like appearance. Also known as "grave wax," adipocere is generally hard to remove, usualy taking a few days to soak and hand clean the bone underneath. This experiment explores various methods of removal. Steaming the bone, treating with hydrogen peroxide and soaking the bone in Aqueous Degreaser and Tergazyme by Alconox were the attempted methods. It was found that soaking the bone in warm water with Alconox Aqueous Degreaser was the best adipocere removal method. This poster explores the methods used as well as the results.
printed by Removal of Adipocere from Human Skeletal Remains. Christa Obermeyer, Dr. Michael Finnegan and Dr. Sue Salem Chemistry Department, Washburn University, Topeka KS, 66621 Current adipocere removal techniques have demonstrated the need for a fast and reliable method to remove adipocere from skeletal remains. This study aimed to develop a method to remove adipocere in a timely matter. Steam, hydrogen peroxide, Alconox Aqueous DegreaserTM and TergazymeTM by Alconox were explored as mechanisms of removal. The steaming technique proved completely ineffective. Hydrogen peroxide was deemed too harsh on bones. The Aqueous DegreaserTM and TergazymeTM were both effective, more so in warm water. However, Aqueous DegreaserTM was determined to be the best removal agent, taking 1 hour in 53.0°C water to soften the adipocere to the point of easy removal by paper towel. The project was supported by the Washburn University WTE fund. A special thanks to KSU’s Dr. Michael Finnegan, Dr. Sue Salem and the staff of the chemistry department of Washburn University for their support. ABSTRACT INTRODUCTION RESULTS AND DISCUSSION ACKNOWLEDGEMENT REFERENCES CONCLUSIONS The steaming and hydrogen peroxide methods were unsuccessful. Steaming did nothing to melt the adipocere from the bone, even after heating to 94.5°C. Hydrogen peroxide degraded the chicken bone sheaths and did not react with or soften the adipocere in any way. TergazymeTM by Alconox was a fairly successful method. This product softened the adipocere in cold water after 4 hours and in warm water after an hour. However, paper towels had to be used to forcefully wipe away the adipocere from the bone after soaking the bone in this solution. Alconox Aqueous DegreaserTM was deemed the best removal method. The solution softened the adipocere in cold water after 4 hours and a paper towel could be used to easily wipe the adipocere from the bone. This time was shortened to 1 hour in warm water. Adipocere flaked off and wiped easily from the bone. This is an advancement in adipocere removal as previous methods could take days to complete. Further research in this area should focus on improving this method and finding other chemical methods. MATERIALS AND METHODS 1. Notter, S.J.; Stuart, B.H.; Rowe, R.; Langlois, N.; J. Forensic Sci. 2009, 54, 195-201. 2. Forbes, S.L.; Stuart, B.H.; Dent, B.B.; Forensic Sci. Int. 2005, 154, 44-52. 3. Forbes, S.L.; Stuart, B.H.; Dadour, I.R.; Dent, B.B.; J. Forensic Sci. 2004, 49, 566-574. 4. Notter, S.J.; Stuart, B.H.; Dent, B.B.; Keegan, J.; Eur. J. Lipid Sci. Technol. 2008, 110, 73-80. 5. Evershed, R.P.; Archaeometry. 1992, 34, 253-265. 6. Ruttan, R.F.; Marshall, M.J.; J. Biol. Chem. 1917, 29, 319-327.