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Extraction, Derivatization, and Analysis of Vegetable Oils from Fire Debris

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Vegetable oils have the ability to spontaneously heat under certain conditions, which may lead to spontaneous ignition. While the oils are not often encountered in forensic casework, they may be suspected in some fire cases. As these oils are not effectively analyzed using traditional fire debris analysis methods, a protocol must be established for extracting vegetable oils from fire debris. In this study, a protocol was developed for the extraction, derivatization, and analysis of vegetable oils from fire debris. Three derivatization methods were compared to establish an optimal derivatization procedure to convert the fatty acids found in vegetable oils to the fatty acid methyl esters (FAMEs) used in analysis. Three different gas chromatograph columns and programs were examined to determine which was best suited for the separation and analysis of FAMEs. The procedure was tested and refined using a variety of neat and burned vegetable oils, in addition to extractions from oils burned on commonly encountered fire debris materials. The findings of this research will serve as a starting point for further understanding and research of vegetable oils in fire debris.

Keywords: fatty acid methyl ester; fire debris; forensic science; vegetable oils

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Forensic Science Laboratory, Ammendale, MD.

Publication date: November 1, 2008

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