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Quantifying the Degradation of TNT and RDX in a Saline Environment with and without UV-Exposure



Edward Sisco, Marcela N. Najarro, Candice Bridge, Roman Aranda


Terrorist attacks in a maritime setting, such as the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, or the detection of underwater mines requires the development of proper protocols to collect and analyze explosive material from a marine environment. In addition to proper analysis of the explosive material, protocols must also consider the exposure of the material to potentially deleterious elements, such as UV light and salinity, as well as time spent in this environment prior to collection and the time between storage and analysis. To understand how traditional explosives would be affected by such an environment these events were simulated, and the degradation of the explosives quantified, using negative chemical ionization gas chromatography mass spectrometry (NCI-GC-MS). More specifically, two explosives, trinitrotoluene (TNT) and cyclotrimethylenetrinitramine (RDX) were exposed to a number of different aqueous environments and light exposures with salinities ranging from freshwater to twice the salinity of ocean water. These solutions were aged under different environmental conditions, and quantified at varying time intervals, to simulate different circumstances in which these explosives may be recovered from an aquatic location. Quantifying the amount of explosive present using NCI-GC-MS with a sandwich injection and an isotopically labelled standard, it was found that salinity has a negligible impact on the degradation of RDX or TNT. Furthermore, RDX was determined to be stable in solutions of all salinities for excess of five months. TNT solutions were shown to degrade, regardless of storage conditions, at timescales that ranged from several days to several weeks. Similar studies were carried out with the exposure of the aqueous solutions to UV light, and degradation was seen, more rapidly, with both explosives. Potential degradation products of TNT were identified using electrospray ionization mass spectrometry (ESI-MS), and correspond to degradation products discu
Forensic Science International


Explosives Degradation, Mass Spectrometry, Saltwater, Forensic Science


Sisco, E. , Najarro, M. , Bridge, C. and Aranda, R. (2015), Quantifying the Degradation of TNT and RDX in a Saline Environment with and without UV-Exposure, Forensic Science International, [online], (Accessed June 19, 2024)


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Created April 13, 2015, Updated June 24, 2021