Research from an undergraduate student is to be presented at an international seminar on Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) incidents.

Christina Martell, 21, is a third year Life Sciences undergraduate who has been investigating the forensic implications of chemical suicides.

The CBRN Centre has asked for Christina’s research to be displayed at the ‘After CBRN – a pathway to recovery’ seminar which runs from 16th to 17th July at the Emergency Planning College near York.

Chemical suicides are defined as “self-inflicted death by mixing various chemicals designed to release toxic fumes in an enclosed space”.

Although chemical suicides occur fairly infrequently, the rate at which they are being experienced in the UK has increased over the past few years, and is likely to continue doing so. They present a danger to those dealing with the aftermath due to the fact that there is the potential for secondary contamination.

The major challenges for mortuary staff are; dealing with the bereaved (in particular having to explain to them why seeing their loved one may not be possible), knowing what personal protective equipment is required, and having a set of procedures to follow in order to deal with chemically contaminated bodies safely.

Christina said: “Chemical suicide has seemingly become a popular method for people wanting to end their own lives. The question is how do these chemicals affect people working in the mortuaries? I gathered evidence from forensics staff and coroners and came to a number of conclusions, including the fact that facilities and equipment, including special CBRN body bags that can contain fumes, should be available in all mortuaries, both public and NHS. It is rather worrying that one of Her Majesty’s Coroners reported in their questionnaire: ‘We have to send these cases to a neighbouring jurisdiction for post-mortem as our local mortuary will not take them as they do not have the necessary facilities’.”

Mass fatalities disasters expert Dr Lucy Easthope, from the School of Life Sciences, will be leading the seminar to advise on site decontamination, recovery planning and the care of deceased fatalities in a CBRN attack.

The seminar is the latest thought-provoking and challenging event in the Emergency Planning College’s renowned seminar series, which explore the most extreme of threats facing the UK.

With representation from all key agencies, the very latest CBRN management strategies and arrangements will be examined alongside learning from catastrophic international case studies.

This event will also launch a new venture between the Emergency Planning College and Police National CBRN Centre, who are working in association on this seminar and on future training collaborations.