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Emerging techniques for the detection of pyrotechnic residues from seized postal packages containing fireworks



John Gillen, Thomas Forbes, Jennifer R. Verkouteren, Shannon T. Krauss, Karlijn Bezemer, Arian C. van Asten, Peter J. Shoenmakers, Mattijs Koeberg


High volume screening of parcels with the aim to trace the illegal distribution and selling of fireworks using postal services is challenging. Inspection services have limited manpower and means to perform extensive visual inspection. In this study, the presence of solid pyrotechnic residues collected from carboard shipping parcels containing fireworks was investigated for direct in-field chemical detection. Two emerging trace detection techniques, i.e., capillary electrophoresis (CE)-based inorganic oxidizer detector and infrared thermal desorption (IRTD) coupled with direct analysis in real time mass spectrometry (DART-MS) were investigated for their potential as screening tools. Detection of non-visible pyrotechnic trace residues from real-case seized parcels was demonstrated using both screening techniques, however, the high nitrate background in the commercial CE system complicated its screening for black powder traces. In addition to rapid screening, IRTD-DART-MS allowed differentiation between flash and black powder by identification of the molecular inorganic ions. Compared to the portable CE instrument, rapid screening using IRTD-DART-MS is currently limited to laboratory settings. The capabilities of these emerging techniques established solid particle and trace residue chemical detection as interesting options for parcel screening in a logistic setting.
Forensic Science International


Trace-Explosive Detection, Forensic Explosives Analysis, Fireworks, Pyrotechnics, Parcel Screening, IRTD-DART-MS, Capillary Electrophoresis


Gillen, J. , Forbes, T. , , J. , Krauss, S. , Bezemer, K. , van, A. , Shoenmakers, P. and Koeberg, M. (2020), Emerging techniques for the detection of pyrotechnic residues from seized postal packages containing fireworks, Forensic Science International, [online],, (Accessed June 17, 2024)


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Created January 23, 2020, Updated July 28, 2021