Portable Instrumentation for On-site Chemical Analyses

Oral Presentation

Prepared by C. Lennard1, V. Otieno-Alego2, V. Spikmans1
1 - University of Western Sydney, School of Science and Health, Locked Bag 1797, Penrith, NSW, 2751, Australia
2 - Australian Federal Police, Forensics, GPO Box 401, Canberra, ACT, 2601, Australia

Contact Information: [email protected]; +61245701739


Traditionally, samples collected from field locations are transported back to a central laboratory facility for analysis. This facility may or may not belong to the same organization as the one that undertook the site examination and sample collection. There can be initial delays before the items are submitted to the laboratory and further delays, due to laboratory backlogs, before the required sample preparation and analyses are completed and the results reported. As such, it can be weeks or months before the laboratory findings are available. Such delays limit the extent to which the analytical data related to environmental contamination or forensic evidence can be used for intelligence purposes to pro-actively assist with the site assessment or forensic investigation.

Significant advances have been made over the last 20 years with respect to the miniaturization of analytical instrumentation. Increased portability and sample throughput brings with it the possibility of conducting environmental and forensic analyses in the field, at or near to the environmental sample source or incident scene. This offers the prospect of providing rapid preliminary results to scientists and investigators even while the site or scene is still being examined. Early results of this nature can help direct both site assessments and crime scene investigations. Field screening can also ensure that only the more relevant samples are submitted for full laboratory analysis, making the best use of the central laboratory facility and helping to reduce backlogs within the laboratory itself. The requirements for on-site forensic and environmental analyses are closely related.

This presentation will provide an overview of the in-field analytical capabilities established within the Australian Federal Police and recent associated research, including the evaluation of a person-portable GC-MS for the on-site analysis of ignitable liquid residues in fire debris samples. The lessons we have learned from a forensic perspective, including the benefits gained from on-site analyses, will be used to suggest that environmental analyses should follow a similar pathway.