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Analysis of Forensic Soil Samples Via High-Performance Liquid Chromatography and Ion Chromatography

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Traditional forensic soil comparisons are performed via physical and/or chemical examinations of color, texture, and mineral content, leaving any organic- or water-soluble fractions unexamined. This study uses high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) and ion chromatography (IC) to assess the qualitative and quantitative variation in these fractions of soil. Soil samples (n=120) were collected over the course of 3 weeks from urban, suburban, and rural locations in and around Lansing, MI. Additional samples from six of these locations (two urban, two suburban, and two rural) were collected once a week for 10 weeks for temporal analysis. Nine additional samples, equally spaced over a 1 m2 grid, from these same six locations were collected for spatial analyses. Qualitative and quantitative analysis of the resultant chromatograms separated the 120 samples into 10 groups by HPLC and 23 groups by IC. This study shows that using HPLC and IC to analyze the organic- and water-soluble fractions of soil can successfully discriminate samples. Quantitative analysis of the results eliminates some false inclusions by providing further differentiation of samples. The results of this study indicate that adding HPLC and IC analyses to traditional forensic soil analysis schemes can improve overall sample differentiation. The methods used in this study were also able to detect both qualitative and quantitative variations in soil over a relatively small geographic area. This demonstration of soil heterogeneity underscores the importance of the collection of a representative known sample population when assessing a forensic soil comparison. Significant temporal variation was also demonstrated over the course of 10 weeks of sampling; however, samples were found to be consistent over shorter periods of time. Baseline levels of inorganic anions were determined via IC; these levels may be useful in assessing the significance of anions detected in soil from cases involving low explosives.
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Keywords: forensic geology; forensic science; high-performance liquid chromatography; ion chromatography; low explosives; soil analysis; soils; trace evidence

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Michigan State Police Forensic Science Division, 7320 N. Canal Road, Lansing, MI 48913. 2: Department of Geological Sciences, Michigan State University, 206 Natural Science Bldg., East Lansing, MI 48824.

Publication date: January 1, 2007

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