Stable Carbon and Nitrogen Isotope Ratios of Sodium and Potassium Cyanide as a Forensic Signature


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Helen Kreuzer, Ph.D.
Chemical and Biological Signature Sciences
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
999 Battelle Blvd, MSIN P7-50
Richland, WA 99352


Abstract:  Sodium and potassium cyanide are highly toxic, produced in large amounts by the chemical industry, and linked to numerous high-profile crimes. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified cyanide as one of the most probable agents to be used in a chemical terrorism event. We investigated whether stable C and N isotopic content of sodium and potassium cyanide could serve as a forensic signature for sample matching, using a collection of 65 cyanide samples. Upon analysis, a few of the cyanide samples displayed nonhomogeneous isotopic content associated with degradation to a carbonate salt and loss of hydrogen cyanide. Most samples had highly reproducible isotope content. Of the 65 cyanide samples, >95% could be properly matched based on C and N isotope ratios, with a false match rate <3%. These results suggest that stable C and N isotope ratios are a useful forensic signature for matching cyanide samples.