Global Challenges/Chemistry Solutions

Promoting Personal Safety & National Security: New test could help track down and prosecute terrorists who use nerve gas and other agents

March 12, 2012


New test could help track down
and prosecute terrorists who
use nerve gas and other agents.
Credit: iStock.

Summary

Scientists are reporting development of a first-of-its-kind
technology that could help law enforcement officials trace
the residues from terrorist attacks involving nerve gas and
other chemical agents back to the companies or other
sources where the perpetrators obtained ingredients for
the agent. A report on the technique appears in
ACS’ journal Analytical Chemistry.

Today’s solution addresses the development of a new test that could help track down and prosecute terrorists who use chemical agents.

Amid concerns about the threat of terrorist attacks, scientists have been working hard to create better protection for the United States and other nations. One such team has developed a technique that could help authorities catch terrorists and put them out of business. Carlos Fraga of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland, Wash., explains.

“We have developed a first-of-its-kind technology that could help law enforcement officials trace the residues from terrorist attacks involving nerve gas and other chemical agents back to the companies or other sources where the perpetrators obtained ingredients for the agent.”

Nerve agents, like sarin (also called GB) are some of the most toxic and fast-acting chemical warfare agents in existence. Although traces of the agents remain after such attacks, there has been no practical way of tracing the agents back to its source ingredients.

”We use a method called “impurity profiling” that identifies impurities in a GB sample at a crime scene and matches them like a fingerprint to the impurities in the source chemicals, pinpointing the likely source. We found that up to 88 percent of the impurities in source chemicals used to make GB can wind up in the finished product, and these impurities are unique, like a fingerprint.”

So exactly how would these fingerprints help the FBI, police and other federal law enforcement officials?

“Using standard laboratory instruments, we did impurity profiling and correctly identified the starting materials used for two different batches of GB. This may one day become a basis for using impurity profiling to help find and prosecute perpetrators of chemical attacks.”

Smart Chemists/Innovative Thinking

Smart chemists. Innovative thinking. That’s the key to solving global challenges of the 21st Century. . Please check out more of our full-length podcasts on wide-ranging issues facing chemistry and science, such as promoting public health, developing new fuels and confronting climate change, at www.acs.org/GlobalChallenges. Today’s podcast was written by Michael Bernstein. I’m Adam Dylewski at the American Chemical Society in Washington.

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Carlos G. Fraga, Ph.D.,
Pacific Northwest
National Laboratory,
Richland, Wash.