U.S. Department of Justice


Date of this Version



Forensic Science International 284 (2018) 65–77


This document is a U.S. government work and is not subject to copyright in the United States.



An improved cleanup method has been developed for the recovery of trace levels of 12 nitro-organic explosives in soil, which is important not only for the forensic community, but also has environmental implications. A wide variety of explosives or explosive-related compounds were evaluated, including nitramines, nitrate esters, nitroaromatics, and a nitroalkane. Fortified soil samples were extracted with acetone, processed via solid phase extraction (SPE), and then analyzed by gas chromatography with electron capture detection. The following three SPE sorbents in cartridge format were compared: EmporeTM SDB-XC, Oasis HLB, and Bond Elut NEXUS cartridges. The NEXUS cartridges provided the best overall recoveries for the 12 explosives in potting soil (average 48%) and the fastest processing times (<30 min). It also rejected matrix components from spent motor oil on potting soil. The SPE method was validated by assessing limit of detection (LOD), processed sample stability, and interferences. All 12 compounds were detectable at 0.02 mg explosive/gram of soil or lower in the three matrices tested (potting soil, sand, and loam) over three days. Seven explosives were stable up to seven days at 2 mg/g and three were stable at 0.2 mg/g, both in processed loam, which was the most challenging matrix. In the interference study, five interferences above the determined LOD for soil were detected in matrices collected across the United States and in purchased all-purpose sand, potting soil, and loam. This represented a 3.2% false positive rate for the 13 matrices processed by the screening method for interferences. The reported SPE cleanup method provides a fast and simple extraction process for separating organic explosives from matrix components, facilitating sample throughput and reducing instrument maintenance. In addition, a comparison study of the validated SPE method versus conventional syringe filtration was completed and highlighted the benefits of sample cleanup for removing matrix interferences, while also providing lower supply cost, order of magnitude lower LODs for most explosives, higher percent recoveries for complex matrices, and fewer instrument maintenance issues.