Researchers learn how to trace chemical agent residue

A recently released report details how researchers have developed a technique for tracing the residue left by components of nerve gas and other chemical agents back to their sources.

The technique could provide a major boost to law enforcement agencies, which could use the technique to track down the perpetrators of a terrorist attack. Although traces of the agent would remain as evidence after such an attack, there has been no practical means of finding the source of the ingredients used, according to

A team of scientists led by Carlos Fraga call their method impurity profiling. In the case of the nerve gas GB, also known as sarin, Fraga and his team were able to identify impurities in a sample of the agent and match them to known impurities from its source. The method is similar to matching fingerprints found at a crimes scene.

The team found that up to 88 percent of the impurities found in the source chemicals used to make GB could also be found in the finished product. The impurities, like a fingerprint, are unique to each agent.

Using standard laboratory instruments, the scientists performed the impurity profiling method on two batches of GB and correctly identified their components.

“This remarkable outcome may one day become a basis for using impurity profiling to help find and prosecute perpetrators of chemical attacks,” the researchers said, reports.