Valdosta Daily Times

October 6, 2012

Proposed body farm program aims to help first responders


Scripps Howard News Service

NEW MARKET, Tenn. — The view looks perfect from the hilltop -- mountains, valleys and the East Tennessee landscape as far as the eye can see.

But it’s a different view Carson-Newman College students will be looking for -- an up-close look at death and what it leaves behind.

College officials showed off the property this week where they hope to launch a body farm as part of a proposed graduate-study program in forensic science. Art Bohanan, a retired Knoxville Police Department fingerprint specialist, led the tour of the seven acres in Jefferson County he plans to donate for the research site.

The college hopes to line up funding for the program and be ready for classes by summer 2014.

“A half-acre will be the initial startup site,” Bohanan said.

The idea originated from a lunch earlier this year when B.J. Ellington, a Carson-Newman nursing professor, suggested the school start a body farm. Bohanan and others initially dismissed the idea.

After all, the University of Tennessee already boasts a world-renowned body farm where forensic anthropologists study the mechanics of death and decay. But what about a different kind of body farm?

“We’re going to focus on the environmental effects,” said Kina Mallard, college provost and vice president for academic affairs. “The research on this site will provide educational opportunities for Carson-Newman graduate and undergraduate students and help develop ways to protect first responders and health care workers in incidents with mass fatalities.”

Bohanan and Steve Tinder, a retired police lieutenant, both saw the need for such study when they volunteered for recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the World Trade Center attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, in New York.

“So many of the people who worked at Ground Zero are now dead,” Tinder said. “So many are dying. We hope we can help prevent that.”

The dangers can include polluted water, airborne dust from decaying bodies, bacteria and even toxic fumes. Tinder recalled a chemical spill in South Carolina when corpses of people killed by a poison gas began aspirating gas particles inside a morgue.

“We would like for first responders and others to be able to know before they go into a situation like that whether it’s safe,” he said.