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To what extent do water treatment processes affect the concentration of peroxide explosives in river water?

21 March 2013

Sally Gamble

River water has previously been analysed in order to identify illicit and toxic substances that can have a detrimental effect on the environment, however, this matrix has yet to be analysed in forensic investigations for counter terrorism intelligence.  The use of hexamethylene triperoxide diamine (HMTD) has been linked to the Los Angeles International Airport Millennium bomb plot, the London 7/7 suicide bombings and the 2006 transatlantic aircraft bomb plot. It is essential to use forensic techniques to not only identify explosives following an event but to identify explosives and their place of manufacture prior to an event occurring.   The manufacture of “home-made bombs” or improvised explosives is increasingly popular among terrorists using organic peroxides, for example triacetone triperoxide (TATP) and (HMTD) since they are relatively inexpensive and easy to synthesise. Common chemicals used for the manufacture of home-made peroxide explosives include acetone, hydrogen peroxide, hexamine and citric acid. These chemicals, as well as the finished explosive, will enter the household wastewater system during the manufacture process in several ways, for example washing hands, using baths and sinks to store chemicals/explosives. Wastewater from households in the UK follow a series of processing stages including screening, settlement, biological filtration and “polishing”. However, it has been identified that only 40% of illicit drugs such as methamphetamine are eliminated following this treatment.  Aim: to test what effect water treatment plant processes have on the concentration of trace levels of precursor chemicals and peroxide explosives themselves in river water using High Performance Liquid Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry. This project will also serve as research that will be built upon in my PhD relating the concentration of peroxide explosive related chemicals in wastewater and river water to corresponding populations where illegal bomb manufacturing may be taking place.