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J Phys Chem A. 2012 Apr 12;116(14):3611-24. doi: 10.1021/jp211260t. Epub 2012 Mar 29.

Fate dynamics of environmentally exposed explosive traces.

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Lincoln Laboratory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Lexington, Massachusetts 02420-9108, United States.


The chemical and physical fates of trace amounts (<50 μg) of explosives containing 2,4,6-trinitrotoluene (TNT), hexahydro-1,3,5-trinitro-1,3,5-triazine (RDX), and pentaerythritol tetranitrate (PETN) were determined for the purpose of informing the capabilities of tactical trace explosive detection systems. From these measurements, it was found that the mass decreases and the chemical composition changes on a time scale of hours, with the loss mechanism due to a combination of sublimation and photodegradation. The rates for these processes were dependent on the explosive composition, as well as on both the ambient temperature and the size distribution of the explosive particulates. From these results, a persistence model was developed and applied to model the time dependence of both the mass and areal coverage of the fingerprints, resulting in a predictive capability for determining fingerprint fate. Chemical analysis confirmed that sublimation rates for TNT were depressed by UV (330-400 nm) exposure due to photochemically driven increases in the molecular weight, whereas the opposite was observed for RDX. No changes were observed for PETN upon exposure to UV radiation, and this was attributed to its low UV absorbance.


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