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Environmental Deaths

Environmental Deaths

Environmental deaths can be described as deaths that are brought about by environmental factors like water, air, and soil, among others. According to WHO, one in four deaths is linked to environmental factors. These ecological factors bring about death through events like Drowning, hypothermia, hyperthermia, and lighting, to name a few.

Types of Environmental Deaths


Drowning is one of the most common types of environmental death. Accordingly, the World Health Organization used the following description: Drowning is the process of experiencing respiratory impairment from submersion/immersion in liquid. Drowning outcomes are classified as death, morbidity, and no morbidity.” Globally, death by drowning cases reported annually range from 150 000 to 500 000. According to the CDC, in the United States alone, the highest cause of death for children under the age of 4 years is drowning. In addition, this type of environmental death comes in as the second leading cause of death for children up to 14 years.

Further statistics show that males register more cases of Drowning compared to females. However, drowning as an environmental death does not necessarily mean that individuals die in oceans, lakes, or natural water sources. On the contrary, according to Tinley (2016), 55% of children’s drowning cases occur in bathtubs, while of older children, 50% occur in swimming pools.

Often, the process of Drowning starts once an individual starts struggling to keep afloat while in a body of water. Next, the person gulps in large breaths of air as they thrashs about. This thrashing eventually tires them out, and they start to submerge underneath. However, even when sinking, one still tries to take deep breaths and hold them in. Unfortunately, while doing this, they also take in water, which enters their airway. The sudden intake of water makes the body react by coughing and swallowing, which happens when the individual is underwater. This reaction only leads to more forceful inhalation and swallowing of water. Subsequently, as the water passes the epiglottis, another reflex action is triggered by the larynx, which closes up the airway to prevent the entry of more water. Consequently, being underneath the water and the closure of the airway leads to oxygen starvation to body organs, especially the brain, and one loses consciousness. Even though the time significantly varies with the individual, after losing consciousness, if a person remains underwater for more than five minutes without resuscitation, they get brain damage and, soon after, death.


When exposed to cold water or a cold environment for a long time, the body starts to lose heat more rapidly than it is producing it. This causes the body temperature to get dangerously low, a condition known as hypothermia (Nixdorf-Miller et al., 2006). This occurs when the body temperature falls below 35℃. When an individual is exposed to cold environments, the signs of hypothermia include slurred speech, shivering, drowsiness, confusion or memory loss, weak pulse, shallow and slow breathing, and loss of consciousness. However, in some instances, due to the confused state of mind, people are not aware of the danger the cold conditions pose to their lives.

Hypothermia takes place in five gradual stages. During the first stage, the body temperature is at 35°C, and one starts shivering. The second stage begins when the temperature drops to 32.7°C, and one starts shivering intensely and experiences difficulty in speaking. The third stage begins at a temperature of 30.0°C. During this stage, the shivering decreases, and instead, there is strong muscular rigidity, which affects muscle coordination by producing jerky movements (Nixdorf-Miller et al., 2006). In addition, thinking becomes less clear, general awareness is dulled, and a likelihood of total amnesia exists. The fourth stage starts at a temperature of 27°C. Here, a person becomes senseless, loses contact with the surroundings, and drifts into a groggy state. Muscular rigidity persists.

Additionally, both respiration and pulse become very slow, and cardiac dysrhythmias may develop. The fifth and final stage begins at 20.5°C; in this stage, an individual loses consciousness, cannot respond, and most reflexes cease to function. Eventually, the heartbeat slows down even more before cardiac arrest occurs.


For the body to function properly, it has to maintain, among other things, an optimum temperature of 37℃. Therefore, the body takes into account both the external environment and the internal one to create a balance of both temperatures and maintain 37℃ (Nixdorf-Miller et al., 2006). While hypothermia is extreme loss of internal body temperature, hyperthermia is the opposite. When it gets too hot, the body cools down using mechanisms utilized by the lungs and skin. If these cooling mechanisms do not cool down the body, its temperature tends to get abnormally high, i.e., hyperthermia, which is hazardous to the body. In the environment, hyperthermia can be caused by excess heat and humidity.

Hyperthermia takes place in gradual stages. The initial stages include heat stress, heat fatigue, heat syncope, heat edema, heat rash, and heat cramps. These stages start when one is exposed to high temperatures for a few hours (Nixdorf-Miller et al., 2006). They are characterized by symptoms like weakness, dizziness, headaches, nausea, fainting, muscle cramps, and swelling in the legs, among others. Progression of these stages leads to the fatal stage, the heatstroke stage.


Although the odds of being struck by lightning are rare, according to the CDC, lighting is one of the leading causes of weather-related fatalities. Even though the exact cause of lighting has not been identified yet, the most popular theory is that ice particles colliding with each other inside a cloud bring about excessive negative charges, which collect at the bottom of the cloud. Eventually, this charge becomes so powerful that it repels electrons towards the ground beneath it, charging it to become positively charged. Hence, the clouds are negatively charged while the ground is positively charged, creating a strong attraction between the two. According to the theory, the lighting is the discharge of this attraction field between the two. Once the lighting is initiated, it descends towards the ground in an almost stair-like manner at a speed of 300,000km per hour, carrying an energy of 300 km. Once close to the ground, it searches for the most convenient object to hit and discharge its charges.

Suppose an individual is hit by lightning; the electricity carried by it courses through one’s body, trying to find an exit. In the process, one experiences third-degree burns, and the hair and clothes might catch fire. In addition, if one has any metal objects, they channel the electricity and cause even more burns to the skin or searing, in the case of piercings. Further, the electricity coursing through the body causes blood vessels to burst (creating the Lichtenberg figure), damage to ears and eyes, seizures, and permanent paralysis. Additionally, the fatal blows of lighting occur when the electricity finds its way into the brain and fries it, leaving one with brain damage. Moreover, the leading cause of lighting deaths is cardiac arrest, which is a result of the heart rhythm being affected by the lighting.

Environmental Deaths in Florida, U.S.A

Over the years, Florida has been in the top ranks for drowning cases in America. For instance, according to the CDC, from 2017 to 2019, Florida had the highest number of unintentional drownings for children under four years and ranked 6th for all ages. For accidental Drowning of children under 18 years, Florida came in 5th, while for adults, it ranked 4th.

In cases of hyperthermia, statistics show that the reported cases of fatalities in the year 2020 were 28, 27 in 2019, and 13 in 2018. 2020 had the highest number of casualties in the last ten years. The cases usually happen during the summer in June, July, and August. However, several cases were also recorded from November to March and primarily included victims found in enclosed places, like children in cars and intoxicated adults in confined areas.

In Florida, the weather is typically warm throughout the year, except during winter, when the temperatures drop slightly. Fortunately, this drop in temperatures rarely causes cases of hypothermia in Florida. On the other hand, Florida has continued to be the leading state with the most lighting deaths for decades now. In 2021, four lighting fatalities were recorded in Florida out of 17 deaths countrywide. Most of these cases are of males and mainly occur along the Gulf Coast. The risk factors that make Floridians the most prone to lighting are the popularity of outdoor activities, Florida’s close location to the tropics, the population, and the seasonal thunderstorms.

The Occurrences of Environmental Deaths in Florida Per Age Groups, Race, and Sex

            According to Gorucu et al. (2021), there were 215 fatalities of hyperthermia over ten years. Of the 215 deaths, 62 (29%) were females, while the rest, 153 (71%), were males. The ages ranged from one year old to ninety years old. Besides, the highest percentage, 27%, of fatalities were older adults 65 years and older. Further, 38 children died from heatstroke after being left in vehicles. Four other victims under the age of 18 died during outdoor sports activities.

In drowning cases, children around the age of one to four years have the highest drowning rates. Subsequently, approximately 80% of drowning fatalities are male. Besides, the CDC statistics show that the drowning fatalitie rates for Alaska Native or American Indians ages 29, and younger are twice as high as for white people. Moreover, for African Americans, they have a 1.5 times higher rate than that of White people. These disparities are particularly highest among African American children between the ages of 5 and 9, 2.6 times higher, and 10-14 years, rates 3.6 times higher.

The Investigative Approach in Homicide vs. Natural Causes

A deceased individual is considered the most crucial piece of evidence in a death scene (Demirci et al., 2011). Therefore, a systematic and thorough examination of the body is mandatory at every death scene. In addition, the death scene must remain as undisturbed as possible till all the investigations are done. Thus, a clear and restricted boundary needs to be made around the death scene. Moreover, anyone accessing the death scene should have gloves, cover their hair, keep any foodstuffs away, and have authorized permission to access the scene (Demirci et al., 2011).

After all the evidence is collected and recorded, if the conclusion made and backed by post-mortem suggests that the death is natural, then no more scene processing should occur. However, if the information points to an unnatural death, then additional processing is required, and law enforcement agents are called in to determine the exact cause of death (Demirci et al., 2011).


Deaths attributable to the environment (%). Who. int.

Demirci, S., & Dogan, K. H. (2011). Death scene investigation from the viewpoint of forensic medicine expert. Forensic Medicine- From Old Problems to New Challenges. Rijeka, Croatia: InTech, 13-52.

Drowning Facts | Drowning Prevention | CDC.

Gorucu, S., Fraisse, C., & Yu, Z. (2021). Natural Heat-Related Deaths in Florida: 2010-2020: AE558/AE558, 05/2021. EDIS, 2021(3).

Lightning Strike Victim Data | Lightning | CDC

Nixdorf-Miller, A., Hunsaker, D. M., & Hunsaker III, J. C. (2006). Hypothermia and hyperthermia medicolegal investigation of morbidity and mortality from exposure to environmental temperature extremes. Archives of pathology & laboratory medicine, 130(9), 1297-1304.

Tilney P (2016). Drowning, hypothermia, and hyperthermia. Cooney D.R.(Ed.), Cooney’s EMS Medicine. McGraw Hill.


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Environmental Deaths

Environmental Deaths

Environmental deaths include Drowning, lightning, hypothermia, and hyperthermia. Write a 3–5-page paper comparing environmental deaths and homicide investigations; be sure to cover the following:
Elaborate on each type of environmental death, including Drowning, lightning, hypothermia, and hyperthermia. (50%)
Choose a state in the United States and research the rates of occurrence of these types of deaths in that state. (20%)
After determining the rate of occurrence, break the occurrences down into age groups, race, and sex. (25%)
The investigative approach in homicide vs. natural causes
Provide citations and references for your materials in APA style. (5%)

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