The effects of microbial degradation on ignitable liquids

Turner, Dee A.; Goodpaster, John V.
May 2009
Analytical & Bioanalytical Chemistry;May2009, Vol. 394 Issue 1, p363
Academic Journal
The identification of ignitable liquid residues in fire debris is a key finding for determining the cause and origin of a suspicious fire. However, the complex mixtures of organic compounds that comprise ignitable liquids are susceptible to microbiological attack following collection of the sample. Biodegradation can result in selective removal of many of the compounds required for identification of an ignitable liquid. Such degradation has been found to occur rapidly in substrates such as soil, rotting wood, or other organic matter. Furthermore, fire debris evidence must often be stored for extended periods at room temperature prior to analysis due to case backlogs and available evidence storage. Hence, extensive damage to ignitable liquid residues by microbes poses a significant threat to subsequent laboratory work. In this work, the effects of microbial degradation of ignitable liquids in soil have been evaluated as a function of time. Key findings include the loss of n-alkanes, particularly C9–C16, which showed the most dramatic decrease in gasoline as well as the petroleum distillates, while branched alkanes remained unchanged. Monosubstituted benzenes also showed the most dramatic loss in gasoline. In the heavy petroleum distillates, n-alkanes with even carbon numbers were degraded more than n-alkanes with odd carbon numbers. [Figure not available: see fulltext.]


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