Last week the team at The Post Mortem Live had a very exciting mission. We were contracted to host an event for the state pathologist and the anatomical pathology technicians. We brought along three of our synthetic cadavers to be used for the event.
The goal of the event organised by the Home Office was to train the pathologist and anatomical pathology technicians on how to operate wearing full personal protective equipment during a suspected CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear) incident.
The scenario was that a couple were making a dirty bomb in their home. It had prematurely exploded, releasing shrapnel coated in ricin, a very dangerous poison. Ricin is one of the most toxic substances that naturally occur, just under 2 grams is enough to kill a person. The couple, as well as an innocent bystander, died in the explosion.
The job of the pathologists and technicians was to wear respirators, double gloves, and taped-up sterile suits. All this equipment hinders the dexterity and tactile feedback needed to perform a post-mortem. The exercise allowed the pathologists to adjust to these impairments and get practice removing articles of clothing, and shrapnel from organs and documenting evidence in CBRN conditions. During the exercise contamination points were identified, when to change gloves and when to put down sacrificial layers were drilled in as well as safety monitoring drills that were implemented at certain time intervals. Our human anatomists Áine and Holly took part in the exercise helping set up the bodies and shrapnel. They also helped to simulate a busy mortuary environment and provide expertise as needed.
Overall, this was a learning experience for everyone involved. Here at The Post Mortem Live we got to see the pathologists and precautions in action. Surprisingly we learned that most contaminations occur because of fatigue and during decontamination while removing PPE. Seeing the Home Office and counter-terrorism policing in action this way was inspiring. Knowing that the government is rigorously training and ready for CBRN incidents in the future is reassuring. Knowing if such an event were to happen the government has the capacity to deal with it and prevent the spread of hazardous CBRN materials actually gives us confidence in our government.
If you want to get a taste of how pathologists work in these conditions, come to the Murder of Anton Orlov, could it have been ricin that caused his demise too?