Forensic medical determination of harm caused to human health in environmental crime cases

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Abstract

The article describes one of the most urgent needs of the investigation — the development of a fundamentally new approach to the forensic medical assessment of harm to human health caused by environmental crimes. Th e special signifi cance of new approaches to establishing a causal relationship between a committed environmental off ense and harm to life and (or) health, including for distinguishing from other possible anthropogenic impacts, is shown. A practical example of expert assistance to the investigation in establishing the circumstances to be proved during the investigation of an environmental crime is given.

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The relevance of this area of forensic expert activity is due to the following fundamental points:

1) Article 42 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation [1] establishes the right of everyone to a favorable environment, reliable information about its condition and to compensation for damage caused to his health or property by an environmental offense;

2) maintaining the increasing level of negative impact on the environment will inevitably lead to further aggravation of environmental problems;

3) the need to distinguish the consequences of environmental offenses that are unfavorable for life and (or) health in situations involving other possible anthropogenic factors (for example, improper provision of medical care).

The impact of certain negative environmental factors can play a leading role in the development of a large range of human diseases and lead to both damage to the health of an individual and to mass diseases of the population. Often, the outcomes of these adverse consequences are not formed immediately, including after a long medical and diagnostic process, at the stages of which certain violations may be allowed. At the same time, persons who have committed environmental crimes may attempt to shift responsibility for the harm caused to medical workers who have committed deficiencies in medical care (services).

The above aspects determine the need for a comprehensive assessment of harm to life and (or) health in cases of investigation of environmental crimes.

Chapter 26 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation «Environmental crimes» includes 18 articles. At the same time, 7 articles as a mandatory condition for the onset of criminal liability provide for the occurrence of harm to human health of varying severity or his death, which can be divided into two groups on this basis:

  1. The elements of crimes provided for by articles of Chapter 26 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation [2], containing as a mandatory feature of the objective side of the crime the occurrence of harm to human health of varying severity:

- art. 246 - Violation of the rules of environmental protection during work,

- p. 2 art. 247 – Violation of the rules for handling hazardous substances and waste,

- p. 1 art. 248 – Violation of safety rules when handling microbiological or other biological agents or toxins,

- p. 2 art. 250 – Water pollution,

- p. 2 art. 251 – Air pollution,

- p. 2 art. 252 – Pollution of the marine environment,

- p. 1 and p. 2 art. 254 – Land damage;

  1. The elements of crimes provided for in articles of Chapter 26 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, containing as a mandatory sign of the objective side of the crime the occurrence of human death:

- p. 3 art. 247 – Violation of the rules for handling hazardous substances and waste,

- p. 2 art. 248 – Violation of safety rules when handling microbiological or other biological agents or toxins,

- p. 3 art. 250 – Water pollution,

- p. 3 art. 251 – Air pollution,

- p. 3 art. 252 – Pollution of the marine environment,

- p. 3 art. 254 – The destruction of the earth [3].

In addition, p. 1 art. 247 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (Violation of the rules for handling environmentally hazardous substances and waste) provides for the creation of a threat of causing significant harm to human health as a socially dangerous consequence (without the need to prove the actual existence of this harm and establish a causal relationship of its occurrence as a result of negative anthropogenic impact).

According to par. 2 it. 6 of the Resolution of the Plenum of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation № 21 of October 18, 2012 «On the application by courts of legislation on liability for violations in the field of environmental protection and nature management» in relation to p. 1 art. 247 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, significant harm to human health is expressed in serious or moderate harm to the health of at least one person, and significant harm to the environment is in its pollution, poisoning or contamination, changes in the radioactive background to values that pose a danger to human health or life, etc. [4].

Forensic environmental and forensic medical examinations play a key role in establishing the circumstances of the commission of these environmental offenses.

When conducting forensic environmental examinations as part of the investigation of most environmental crimes, an environmental expert solves two main tasks:

- determines the extent of the negative impact and the extent of harm to the environment;

- establishes the sources, contributing conditions and mechanisms of anthropogenic and technogenic impact on the environment.

The conclusion of the environmental assessment allows you to identify violations of environmental standards, assess the impact of negative impacts on the environmental situation. Unfortunately, this is not enough in cases of investigation of environmental crimes, in which the legislator has provided for the occurrence of a mass disease, the onset of death or harm to human health as socially dangerous consequences. In such situations, the issue of determining the causal relationship between socially dangerous acts and the above-mentioned adverse consequences for people's life and health becomes a stumbling block again.

The developed methodological approaches of complex forensic medical and forensic environmental support for the investigation of environmental crimes are based on the concept of determining the anthropogenic causal factor in the genesis of death or harm to the health of an individual, as well as in cases of mass diseases. In these types of crimes, only such a factor meets the needs of criminal proceedings, in which only a direct cause-and-effect relationship is recognized as significant.

In order to study the possibility of comprehensive forensic expert support for the investigation of environmental crimes, an information letter was sent to the investigative departments of the Investigative Committee of Russia for the subjects of the Federation and specialized investigative departments and departments equated to them, as well as to military investigative departments [5] with a request for copies of the following materials of criminal cases and pre-investigative checks for the last 5 years, within which forensic environmental examinations were appointed:

- copies of resolutions on the initiation of a criminal case or copies of resolutions on the refusal to initiate a criminal case;

- copies of resolutions on the appointment of forensic environmental expert studies;

- copies of the conclusions of the conducted forensic environmental examinations (expert opinions);

- copies of resolutions on the termination of a criminal case or copies of indictments with decisions of prosecutors in a criminal case, as well as copies of sentences (resolutions, decisions) of courts.

Separately, attention was drawn to situations in which socially dangerous consequences were adverse outcomes for human life and/or health (harm to health, mass diseases, death, etc.). In these cases, copies of resolutions on the appointment of forensic expert studies and copies of the conclusions of the CME (expert conclusions) were additionally requested.

The purpose of the analysis of the received array of materials on the investigation of environmental crimes is to develop an expert methodology, according to which socially dangerous acts that cause harm to the environment could be regarded as variants of causes that determine the inevitability of the onset of socially dangerous consequences in the form of mass illness, death or harm to human health, as well as the threat of their occurrence.

As an example, we can cite a case of violation of environmental legislation investigated by the North-Western Investigative Department for Transport of the Investigative Committee of Russia, within the framework of which an explanation was given by one of the authors of this article as a specialist with competencies in both forensic medicine and forensic ecology.

According to the protocol of the specialist's explanation of May 26, 2021, the materials of the pre-investigation check № 96 pr-21 were provided to the specialist S.V. Kuznetsov for familiarization. The specialist got acquainted with the presented materials by personal reading. After reviewing the materials of the pre-investigation check, the investigator asked a question to a specialist.

Investigator's question № 1: Has there been a negative anthropogenic impact on the environment as a result of the detected contamination with oil products of the area about 17 km of the 4th picket of the railway station «P.»? If such a negative impact took place, did it cause environmental pollution?

The expert's answer: According to the presented materials, a negative anthropogenic impact on the environment in the form of a spill of petroleum products occurred on the site of the area about 17 km of the 4th picket of the railway station «P.»:

In the sample of reg. № 2.21.36 (soil layer 0-5 cm), more than 50,000 mg/kg of petroleum products were recorded (with a sample from the background point of 45 mg/kg);

In the sample of reg. № 2.21.37 (soil layer 5-20 cm), more than 50,000 mg/kg of petroleum products were recorded (when the sample from the background point is less than 20 mg/kg).

The findings suggest that the content of petroleum products in contaminated soils in the soil layer of 0-5 cm and 5-20 cm layer more than 50000 mg/kg of soil, which provides a very high level of soil pollution, according to the letter of the Ministry of Russia from 27.12.1993 № 04-25/61-5678 «On the procedure for determining the extent of the damage from land pollution chemicals»:

1000-2000 mg/kg low level of contamination;

2000-3000 mg/kg average level of contamination;

3000-5000 mg/kg high level of contamination;

more than 5000 mg/kg is a very high level of contamination [6, 7].

The detected amount of petroleum products on the contaminated site in the soil layer of 0-5 cm is more than 1110 times higher than the background indicator. Taking into account the fact that the MPC for petroleum products in the soil is not normalized, a correction factor equal to 0,1 to the background indicator is used instead. Thus, the analysis data of the reg sample. № 2.21.36 of 14.05.2021, conducted by «TsLATI for the North-Western Federal District», indicate that the permissible concentration of petroleum products in the soils at the site of the alleged contamination is 111 times higher, which indicates not only a very high level of soil contamination, but also a multiple excess of this level.

The detected amount of petroleum products in the contaminated area in the soil layer of 5-20 cm is more than 2500 times higher than the background indicator. Taking into account the fact that the MPC for petroleum products in the soil is not normalized, a correction factor equal to 0,1 to the background indicator is used instead. Thus, the analysis data of the reg sample. № 2.21.37 of 14.05.2021, conducted by «TsLATI for the North-Western Federal District», indicate that the permissible concentration of petroleum products in the soils at the site of the alleged contamination is 250 times higher, which indicates not only a very high level of soil contamination, but also a multiple excess of this level.

The presence of petroleum products in the soil carries a strong anthropogenic load and has a negative impact on the vital activity of plants. The influence of oil product contamination on the physical and chemical properties of the soil is mainly due to the enveloping of soil particles with oil products. In this regard, there is a strong increase in the hydrophobicity of the soil, it loses the ability to absorb and retain water, air is displaced from the soil pores, and ultimately, the water and air regimes of the soil are violated [8].

In addition, in the soil contaminated with petroleum products, the availability of mineral nutrition elements for plants decreases: nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, due to the enveloping of soil particles with petroleum products, which prevents the migration of mobile forms of mineral nutrition elements, as well as due to the negative effect of petroleum products on bacteria involved in the nitrogen cycle in the soil [8, 9].

Changes in the physical and chemical properties of the soil lead to the displacement of air by petroleum products, disruption of the flow of water and nutrients, which is the main reason for the inhibition of plant growth and their death [10, 11].

Thus, as a result of the spill of petroleum products on the area about 17 km of the 4th picket of the railway station «P.», a negative anthropogenic impact on the soil cover occurred, which resulted in contamination and damage to the original soil cover with petroleum products, to levels that could cause stress phenomena in the biocenosis, up to its complete destruction, and also created a threat of further spread of soil pollution, groundwater as a result of spreading along the natural slope of the relief.

Taking into account the above results of the samples, the considered negative anthropogenic impact caused significant contamination of the environmental component with petroleum products, namely, the soils of the land plot about 17 km of the 4th picket of the railway station «P.», as well as possible contamination of groundwater with petroleum products, which indicates the need for work to eliminate the spill of oil and oil-containing products, reclamation and other restoration works.

The ecological and economic damage caused to the soils of the land plot about 17 km of the 4th picket of the railway station «P.» can be calculated in monetary terms within the framework of a separately appointed forensic environmental examination, if all the necessary data are available.

Investigator's question № 2: Is there a threat of causing significant harm to human health as a result of oil products contamination of the area about 17 km of the 4th picket of the railway station «P.»? If such a threat has arisen, what is it expressed in?

Specialist's response: In accordance with it. 6 Resolution of the Plenum of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation № 21 of October 18, 2012 «On the application by courts of legislation on liability for violations in the field of environmental protection and nature management» creating a threat of causing significant harm to human health or the environment means the occurrence of such a situation that would entail harmful consequences provided for by law if they were not prevented by timely measures taken or other circumstances that do not depend on the will of the person who violated the rules for handling environmentally hazardous substances and waste. Such a threat implies the presence of a specific danger of real causing significant harm to human health or the environment. At the same time, in relation to p. 1 art. 247 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, significant harm to human health is expressed in severe or moderate harm to the health of at least one person, and significant harm to the environment is in its pollution, poisoning or infection, changes in the radioactive background to values that pose a danger to human health or life, etc.

Based on the above, the threat of causing significant harm to human health as a result of contamination with petroleum products of an area about 17 km of the 4th picket of the railway station «P.», it is possible to consider possible options for the occurrence of serious or moderate harm to the health of at least one person from acute or chronic poisoning with petroleum products.

As for toxicity, the vapors of petroleum products are highly toxic, they have a toxic effect on the human body, especially the vapors of sulfur and leaded gasoline are poisonous [12].

Vapors of petroleum products often enter the human body through the respiratory organs, through the skin, sometimes with water, food and are absorbed into the blood. Petroleum products have an irritating effect on the mucous membranes and eyes. Their toxicity depends on the fractional and chemical composition [13].

Oil and most of its refined products (gasoline, kerosene, marginal and unsaturated hydrocarbon gases, aromatic products) are nerve poisons that have a narcotic effect and affect mainly the central nervous system. They increase the excitability of a person, cause dizziness, palpitations, general weakness of the body, often ending in loss of consciousness. Oil and liquid petroleum products, getting on the skin, degrease and dry it, cause various skin diseases (eczema, dermatitis). Nerve poisons also include tetraethyl lead, methanol and other substances used in the oil refining industry [14].

Hydrocarbon gases and vapors of petroleum products at high concentrations have a narcotic effect on the body, paralyze the central nervous system, irritate the mucous membranes [15]; they dissolve in the blood and with it penetrate the spinal cord and brain [16].

In severe cases of acute poisoning with petroleum products, hallucinations, convulsions, a violation of consciousness to its complete loss, coma, respiratory arrest and even death are possible. According to it. 1.1.6. of the Rules on labor protection during the operation of the main oil product pipelines POT RO 112-002-98 (approved by the order of the Ministry of Fuel and Energy of the Russian Federation № 208 of June 16, 1998) [17] when the concentration of gasoline vapors in the air exceeds 2.2% (30 g/cubic meter) after 10-12 breaths, a person is poisoned, loses consciousness, more than 3% (40 g/cubic meter). m) lightning poisoning occurs (2-3 breaths) – rapid loss of consciousness and death [18].

According to it. 6.2.2. of the medical criteria for determining the severity of harm caused to human health, approved by the order of the Ministry of Health and Social Development of the Russian Federation № 194n of April 24, 2008 [19], a coma of II-III degree of various etiologies (including as a result of poisoning) is qualified as a health hazard dangerous to human life, which caused a disorder of vital functions of the human body, which cannot be compensated by the body independently and usually ends in death (a life-threatening condition), which is one of the medical criteria for serious harm to human health.

In addition, various lesions of the gastrointestinal tract are a frequent complication of acute and chronic poisoning with petroleum products [20].

Taking into account the fact that with severe forms of intoxication, despite the cessation of contact with oil products and treatment, full recovery of health may not occur, cases of persistent disability are possible. At the same time, in accordance with it. 51a of the Table of percentages of persistent loss of general working capacity as a result of various injuries, poisoning and other consequences of exposure to external causes (Appendix to the order of the Ministry of Health and Social Development of the Russian Federation of April 24, 2008 № 194n «On approval of medical criteria for determining the severity of harm caused to human health» [19]) violation of the function of the digestive organs as a result of trauma, acute poisoning in the form of cholecystitis, duodenitis, gastritis, pancreatitis, enteritis, colitis, proctitis, paraproctitis entails 15% permanent loss of general working capacity, which according to it. 7.2. Medical criteria for determining the severity of harm caused to human health, approved by the order of the Ministry of Health and Social Development of the Russian Federation of April 24, 2008. № 194n [19], qualifies as a significant persistent loss of general working capacity by less than one third and on this basis is one of the medical criteria for harm to human health of moderate severity.

Thus, it can be concluded that as a result of oil products contamination of the area about 17 km of the 4th picket of the railway station «P.», there was a threat of causing significant harm to human health, expressed in the real possibility of serious harm to human health and harm to human health of moderate severity. The reasoned judgments received from the specialist made it possible to consider what was done under p. 1 art. 247 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation as one of the qualification options.

 

Conclusion:

As for any emerging branch of knowledge, despite the presence of classical scientific and expert methods, the initial stage of the development of forensic environmental expertise is characterized by the search for individual ways to optimally solve the tasks assigned to it.

Taking into account the fact that only a direct causal relationship is recognized as significant in the investigation of environmental crimes, it seems that previously developed approaches [21] (based on the concept of determining an anthropogenic causal factor in the genesis of an unfavorable outcome for life and/or health) can find a real continuation as a methodological basis for conducting complex forensic forensic environmental examinations.

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About the authors

Semyon V. Kuznetsov

Russian State University of Justice; Saint-Petersburg State Agrarian University

Author for correspondence.
Email: nachsml@mail.ru
SPIN-code: 5122-0242

MD, Cand. Sci. (Med.), Assistant Professor

Russian Federation, 96, Moyka, St. Petersburg, 190000; St. Petersburg

Yuri A. Molin

North-Western State Medical University named aft er I.I. Mechnikov; Bureau of Forensic Medical Examination

Email: expertfm@mail.ru
SPIN-code: 7439-0540

MD, Dr. Sci. (Med.), Professor

Russian Federation, 96, Moyka, St. Petersburg, 190000; St. Petersburg

Sergey Yu. Melikhov

Saint Petersburg Academy of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation

Email: msy@skspba.ru
SPIN-code: 9043-1411

Cand. Sci. (Legal)

Russian Federation, 96, Moyka, St. Petersburg, 190000

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Copyright (c) 2021 Kuznetsov S.V., Molin Y.A., Melikhov S.Y.

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