Screening and on-site identification of accelerants for arson investigations

ACS National Meeting Information available here:

DIVISION: Division of Analytical Chemistry
SESSION: Advances in Separations
SESSION TIME: 8:00 AM - 11:40 AM

DAY & TIME OF PRESENTATION: Sunday, April, 02, 2017 from 10:35 AM - 10:55 AM
ROOM & LOCATION: Franciscan D - Hilton San Francisco Union Square 

TITLE: Screening and on-site identification of accelerants for arson investigations
AUTHORS (FIRST NAME, LAST NAME): Jennifer L. Maclachlan1, John N. Driscoll2
INSTITUTIONS (ALL): 1. PID Analyzers, LLC, Centerville, MA, United States.
2. PID Analyzers, LLC, Sandwich, MA, United States. 

The photoionization detector (PID) consists of a short wavelength lamp adjacent to an ionization chamber. The UV lamp will ionize hydrocarbons that could be encountered at an arson site and have ionization potentials (IP) greater than 10.6 eV. The major components in air have high IPs and are not ionized by the UV lamp. The PID is very sensitive analyzer for common accelerants. It can detect trace (ppb) levels of hydrocarbons such as gasoline, kerosene, diesel fuel, lighter fluid etc. This analyzer has a rapid response and can quickly identify areas where pockets of accelerants are located and samples are taken. Our PID’s have been used for decades by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, German Criminal Police Office, The Bundeskriminalamt (BKA), the Indonesian National Police (POLRI) and many US fire marshalls and state police. 

A new tool to speed up investigations has been developed by coupling the PID with a compact field portable gas chromatograph (GC). This provides identification of the type of accelerant used at the arson scene. Gasoline contains aromatic hydrocarbons used for increasing the octane number while diesel fuel has many high molecular weight and cyclic hydrocarbons so they can be easily distinguished. By obtaining that information in the field, two to four weeks can be saved because samples do not have to be sent to the laboratory to keep the investigation going.
This same equipment (PID and GC/PID) can also be used for first responders when there is a spill of hazardous chemicals or a need for detection and identification of explosives and/or chemical warfare agents.


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