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Analysis of Black Powder Substitutes Containing Ascorbic Acid by Ion Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry

NCJ Number
Journal of Forensic Sciences Volume: 54 Issue: 6 Dated: November 2009 Pages: 1315-1322
Gui-hua Lisa Lang, Ph.D.; Katherine M. Boyle, M.F.S.
Date Published
November 2009
8 pages
Since the analysis of low-explosive black powder substitutes that use ascorbic acid as the fuel is complicated by the degradation of ascorbic acid under certain conditions, this paper reports on initial efforts to develop a procedure for detecting degradation products from ascorbic acid.
The experiment succeeded in identifying various diagnostic degradation products of ascorbic acid as well as anions from the inorganic oxidizers and combustion products. Aqueous extracts of both intact powders and postblast residues were analyzed by an existing ion chromatography/mass spectrometry (IC/MS) method used at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Although this experiment did not detect ascorbic acid itself, its diagnostic degradation products (threonic acid, monohydrated diketogulonic acid, and oxalic acid) were identified. In addition, anions from the inorganic oxidizers (perchlorate and nitrate) and combustion products such as chloride, chlorate, and nitrite were identified within the same experiment. Although this IC/MS method shows promise, future modifications are needed because of limitations in identifying threonate in postblast residues, as well as coeluting compounds observed in postblast residues. The descriptions of materials and methods address sources of products used in the experiment, the creation of six pipe bombs used to obtain postblast residues, sample preparation, and instrumentation. 8 figures and 17 references


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