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Proceedings Paper

SEM-EDX analysis of an unknown "known" white powder found in a shipping container from Peru
Author(s): Douglas C. Albright
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Paper Abstract

In 2008, an unknown white powder was discovered spilled inside of a shipping container of whole kernel corn during an inspection by federal inspectors in the port of Baltimore, Maryland. The container was detained and quarantined while a sample of the powder was collected and sent to a federal laboratory where it was screened using chromatography for the presence of specific poisons and pesticides with negative results. Samples of the corn kernels and the white powder were forwarded to the Food and Drug Administration, Forensic Chemistry Center for further analysis. Stereoscopic Light Microscopy (SLM), Scanning Electron Microscopy/Energy Dispersive X-ray Spectrometry (SEM/EDX), and Polarized Light Microscopy/Infrared Spectroscopy (PLM-IR) were used in the analysis of the kernels and the unknown powder. Based on the unique particle analysis by SLM and SEM as well as the detection of the presence of aluminum and phosphorous by EDX, the unknown was determined to be consistent with reacted aluminum phosphide (AlP). While commonly known in the agricultural industry, aluminum phosphide is relatively unknown in the forensic community. A history of the use and acute toxicity of this compound along with some very unique SEM/EDX analysis characteristics of aluminum phosphide will be discussed.

Paper Details

Date Published: 22 May 2009
PDF: 11 pages
Proc. SPIE 7378, Scanning Microscopy 2009, 73782H (22 May 2009); doi: 10.1117/12.827278
Show Author Affiliations
Douglas C. Albright, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (United States)


Published in SPIE Proceedings Vol. 7378:
Scanning Microscopy 2009
Michael T. Postek; Michael T. Postek; Michael T. Postek; Dale E. Newbury; Dale E. Newbury; Dale E. Newbury; S. Frank Platek; S. Frank Platek; S. Frank Platek; David C. Joy; David C. Joy; David C. Joy, Editor(s)

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