490 MEDICAL JURISPRUDENCE
the gastrointestinal contents of a woman who had died as a result of acute
phosphorus poisoning and whose body was not exhumed until four weeks
after death. FeUetar11 proved the presence of free phosphorus in the two
bodies which had been buried for twelve and thirteen months respectively.
It must, however, be remembered that such instances are very rare and it
is advisable that in cases of suspected phosphorus poisoning the chemical
analysis should be made as early as possible. It must also be borne in mind
that phosphorus occurs in combination mainly as phosphates in the various
articles of food and in the tissues and fluids of the human body; hence its
detection in these forms has no value for medico-legal purposes, but its
presence in the body in the elementary form is sufficient to prove phosphorus
poisoning, as it does not occur free in nature.
Phosphoretted Hydrogen (Trihydrogen Phosphide, Phosphine, PH3).—
This is obtained by boiling phosphorus in a flask with a solution o± potas-
sium or sodium hydroxide. It is also produced, when calcium phosphide is
brought into contact with water. It is a colourless gas, very slightly soluble
in water and having a penetrating, garlic-like odour. It is not inflammable
in the air at the ordinary temperature, but it ignites at a temperature below
This gas, when inhaled, is highly poisonous, reducing the oxyhaemoglobin
of Hie blood, and proves rapidly fatal, when 2,000 parts of it are contained in
one million parts of air. Four hundred to six hundred parts of the gas per
million parts of air produce dangerous symptoms, if inhaled for half to one
hour, while 100 to 200 parts per million of air is the maximum amount that
can be inhaled for an hour without serious results,12 The chief symptoms
are nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, rapid and then slow and laboured respira-
tions, cold, clammy sweats, weakness, tremors, convulsions, delirium, coma
and death from respiratory or cardiac failure.
Post-mortem examination shows that the brain, lungs and liver are con-
gested, and the heart is full of dark blood.
Several cases of fatal poisoning by this gas have occurred on board ships
carrying ferro-silicon as part of their cargo. Ferro-silicon is an alloy of iron
and silicon used in the manufacture of steel. It often contains as an impurity
calcium phosphide, which undergoes decomposition in the presence of
moisture and evolves phosphoretted hydrogen.
Chlorine is a greenish-yellow gas, having an unpleasant irritating odour even when
diluted, and is largely used as a disinfectant and as a bleaching agent.
Symptoms.—The chief effects after inhalation of the gas are an intense feeling of
tightness in the chest, and a sense of being totally unable to take an inspiration. The
case may be of three degrees, mild, severe or extreme.13
Mild.—In these cases cough is frequent and painful. Cough may be dry and harsh,
or may be accompanied by greenish, viscid sputum. Other signs are headache, pain in
the eyes, and abdominal pain with hurried respiration. These symptoms soon subside.
Severe.—The patient is cyanotic, with frequent panting and painful respirations,
headache, a little pyrexia and drowsiness.
Extreme.—Dry, red throat, cracked and furred tongue, intense cyanosis, oedema of the
lungs, pulse 80 and respirations 30 per minute, coma and death.
Inhaled in the concentrated form, i.e. when not freely diluted with air, chlorine
causes death by cardiac paralysis or by asphyxia.
11. Pest. Med.-CUr. Presse, 1890, XXVI, p. 148; Witthaus, Manual of Toxic., Ed. H,
12. Henderson and Haggard, Noxious Gases, 1927, p. 188. ,
13. For detailed description vide an address on Gas Poisoning by Leonard Hill,
Med. Jour., Dec. 4, 1915, p. 80L