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Explosives Analysis in the Environment

Environment: Water and Waste

  1. Bruce A. Tomkins PhD

Published Online: 15 SEP 2006

DOI: 10.1002/9780470027318.a0815

Encyclopedia of Analytical Chemistry

Encyclopedia of Analytical Chemistry

How to Cite

Tomkins, B. A. 2006. Explosives Analysis in the Environment. Encyclopedia of Analytical Chemistry. .

Author Information

  1. Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, USA

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 SEP 2006


The interest in analytical procedures for explosives residues in environmental media steadily increases as more and more formerly utilized military sites are certified and converted to full- or part-time civilian use. Careful statistical studies have clearly demonstrated that analyses based on randomly collected “grab” samples of soils frequently produce a false picture of the extent of explosives contamination. Well-designed sampling plans, which employ multiple samples taken from small areas and which consider the distribution of the soil particles, are mandatory for understanding the true extent of contamination. Because site remediation is such a costly venture, there is a strong need for analytical procedures which are capable of quantitating explosives in soil and groundwater samples quickly and accurately, using equipment and methods which may be operated reliably by nontechnical personnel. For that reason, scientific interest is gradually moving away from the completely laboratory-based, statistically validated, and highly technical standardized methods, such as high-pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC) and gas chromatography (GC) and their mass spectroscopic analogs, towards the many fieldable analytical techniques. Some of these, such as ion mobility spectrometry and the various magnetic resonance techniques, are still in their infancy; their potential and utility are still to be fully developed. Others, such as the colorimetric and enzyme-based field test kits, have been fully tested and, in some cases, have been adopted as standard methods themselves. Still others, such as the various mass spectrometric methods, involve highly technical equipment which must be simplified before it can be used routinely in the field. However, the extreme sensitivities characteristic of these state-of-the-art instruments partially offset the need for extensive operator training. A variety of mass spectrometric techniques may yet be used routinely for explosives residue analysis in the field. Some of these new methods may be used in, or even be derived from, forensic applications.