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How do you know if a liquid seized by the police is explosive?

Every yearsecurity forces confiscate tons of pyrotechnic substancesintended, in principle, for the manufacture of low-power fireworks, such as sparklers or those used in artistic or sporting events, but which can also end up in the hands of violent groups orhooligans. Now a group of chemists from the University of the Basque Country (UPV / EHU) has developed a method that offers judges conclusive scientific evidence on the nature of these liquids. Until now, many means had been dedicated to the detection of high-powered explosives, such as TNT, but only for those of lower strength, although they can also be dangerous.

By combining four techniques commonly used in laboratories, they have been able to determine, relatively easily,explosive or flammable compounds in liquids of doubtful origin, according to the SINC agency. On the one hand, the molecular composition of the substances is obtained with two spectroscopic techniques (Raman and infrared), which can be carried out with portable devices in airports, customs or port offices. On the other hand, to determine which elements the sample presents, an energy dispersive detector (EDS) is used, to which the images provided by a scanning electron microscope (SEM) are added.

To validate the method, scientists have applied it to five samples of confiscated liquids. In four of them the results are consistent with their use for low power fireworks. Alcohols such as isopropyl and methanol were used to solubilize compounds and the scientists were able to produce colored flames. The use ofmethanolas the main solvent it came as a surprise to the team, as this compound is very toxic to humans (causes acidosis and blindness) and its use is restricted in many countries. In another of the liquids, it was also detectedBoric acid, a substance recently added to the “Highly Concern” listof the REACH regulation (registration, evaluation, authorization and restriction of chemical substances) of the European Union. These acids can adversely affect human reproductive function.

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