Macroscopic Observations of the Effects of Varying Fresh Water pH on Bone


Additional information—reprints not available from author:
Angi M. Christensen, Ph.D.
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Laboratory Division
Forensic Anthropology Program
2501 Investigation Parkway
Quantico, VA 22135


Abstract:  Little is known about the decomposition of remains in aquatic environments of varying pH, and even less is known about the specific effects of these environments on bone. Bovine bones were placed in solutions of pH 1, 4, 7, 10, and 14 and observed over a period of 1 year. All solutions eventually removed or dissolved the soft tissues from the external surface of the bone. The pH 7 and pH 10 solutions had little effect on the bone, but the other solutions affected the bone to varying degrees. Extreme pH levels were the most destructive, while more moderate pH levels had lesser but significant and interesting effects. Empirical data on postmortem aquatic changes may be extremely useful in forensic contexts for both improving time since death estimates and also for providing better information to underwater recovery experts thereby potentially increasing the quantity and quality of remains recovery.