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Stable Carbon and Nitrogen Isotope Ratios of Sodium and Potassium Cyanide as a Forensic Signature

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Abstract:  Sodium and potassium cyanide are highly toxic, produced in large amounts by the chemical industry, and linked to numerous high‐profile crimes. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified cyanide as one of the most probable agents to be used in a chemical terrorism event. We investigated whether stable C and N isotopic content of sodium and potassium cyanide could serve as a forensic signature for sample matching, using a collection of 65 cyanide samples. Upon analysis, a few of the cyanide samples displayed nonhomogeneous isotopic content associated with degradation to a carbonate salt and loss of hydrogen cyanide. Most samples had highly reproducible isotope content. Of the 65 cyanide samples, >95% could be properly matched based on C and N isotope ratios, with a false match rate <3%. These results suggest that stable C and N isotope ratios are a useful forensic signature for matching cyanide samples.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, 999 Battelle Blvd, Richland, WA 99352. 2: Chemical Sciences Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, PO Box 2008, Oak Ridge, TN 37831-6110.

Publication date: January 1, 2012

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