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UCL Centre for the Forensic Sciences

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Sally Gamble

Research synopsis: Developing methods for using a wastewater analysis approach to gather intelligence for the identification of illegal peroxide explosive manufacturing in London.

Wastewater analysis for trace peroxide explosives: exploiting evidence as intelligence.

Aims of project: There is significant potential for measuring trace levels of explosives in the wastewater system, to identify areas where IEDs are being manufactured. In this way we can offer a viable form of forensic intelligence to inform on-going criminal and counter terrorism investigations.

Collection, extraction and quantification: This project aims to develop robust collection, extraction and quantification methodologies for the detection of trace peroxide explosives in wastewater at different locations along the sewerage network, from homes to the wastewater treatment plant and back into the river.

Forensic significance: Since the precursor chemicals used to manufacture 'home-made bombs' are commonly available, there is more forensic significance to the detection of the final explosives themselves. Different approaches to collecting wastewater samples from wastewater pumping stations and manholes as well as collecting influent and effluent from wastewater treatment plants will be explored, including the development of an explosives specific device for use in situ.

Visual assessment and interpretation: Data collected regarding detection levels of explosives throughout the wastewater system can be used to create a hot-spot map using ArcGIS software. The visual assessment and interpretation of such an intelligence tool is to be analysed so that any misinterpretation issues are identified. This holistic approach can contribute towards prevention and disruption measures by directing surveillance resources to target areas of particular interest.

Crime prevention: Whilst in forensic science, there is a general focus on the detection of a crime after the event, identifying the 'who', 'when', 'where' and 'how', this research highlights the potential for forensic evidence from environmental, and in particular, wastewater surveillance to also have a part to play in the prevention of crimes