Using Paint to Investigate Fires: An ATR-IR Study of the Degradation of Paint Samples Upon Heating


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Matthew Almond, D.Phil.

Department of Chemistry

University of Reading


Reading, RG6 6AD




Fire investigation is a challenging area for the forensic investigator. The aim of this work was to use spectral changes to paint samples to estimate the temperatures to which a paint has been heated. Five paint samples (one clay paint, two car paints, one metallic paint, and one matt emulsion) have been fully characterized by a combination of attenuated total reflectance Fourier transform infrared (ATR-IR), Raman, X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy and powder X-ray diffraction. The thermal decomposition of these paints has been investigated by means of ATR-IR and thermal gravimetric analysis. Clear temperature markers are observed in the ATR-IR spectra namely: loss of ν(C = O) band, >300°C; appearance of water bands on cooling, >500°C; alterations to ν(Si–O) bands due to dehydration of silicate clays, >700°C; diminution of ν(CO3) and δ(CO3) modes of CaCO3, >950°C. We suggest the possible use of portable ATR-IR for nondestructive, in situ analysis of paints.