The Effects of Corrosive Substances on Human Bone, Teeth, Hair, Nails, and Soft Tissue


  • Presented at the 61st Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, February 16–21, 2009, in Denver, CO.

Additional information and reprint requests:
Kristen M. Hartnett, Ph.D.
Office of Chief Medical Examiner
520 First Avenue
New York, NY 10016


Abstract:  This research investigates the effects of household chemicals on human tissues. Five different human tissues (bone, tooth, hair, fingernails, and skin/muscle/fat) were immersed into six different corrosive agents. These agents consisted of hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid, lye, bleach, organic septic cleaner, and Coca-Cola® soda. Tap water was used as a control. Tissue samples were cut to consistent sizes and submerged in the corrosive liquids. Over time, the appearance, consistency, and weight were documented. Hydrochloric acid was the most destructive agent in this study, consuming most tissues within 24 h. Sulfuric acid was the second most destructive agent in this study. Bleach, lye, and cola had no structural effects on the hard tissues of the body, but did alter the appearance or integrity of the hair, nails, or flesh in some way. The organic septic cleaner and tap water had no effect on any of the human tissue tested during the timeframe of the study.