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Analytical Chemistry

Analytical Technique Could Detect U.S. Currency Smuggling

ACS Meeting News: Approach could aid customs officials and hurt the illegal-drug business

by Stu Borman
August 18, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 33

Tens of billions of dollars of U.S. currency are smuggled from the U.S. to Mexico each year, primarily by illegal-drug dealers, and only a small fraction is found at the border. To reduce currency smuggling and hamper drug gangs, researchers have developed a device that analyzes volatile emissions from paper money. Customs officials now use trained dogs to sniff out hidden money. But dogs find only a small proportion of secreted currency, require expensive training and handling, and aren’t always available. Suiqiong Li and Joseph R. Stetter of KWJ Engineering, in Newark, Calif., described a new system to address this issue, the Bulk Currency Detection System. The researchers found a set of trace aldehydes, furans, and organic acids that is characteristic of U.S. currency. The system uses thermal desorption, solid-phase microextraction, and GC/MS to extract, preconcentrate, and analyze gases from traveler clothing and property and detect the trace substances in seconds or minutes. It could be ready in two to three years, the researchers said.

This week’s selections are from the ACS national meeting, which took place on Aug. 10–14 in San Francisco.


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