Demand for advanced detection technologies remains high, as weapons of mass destruction could result in unaccountable casualties. Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear material detectors are must-have frontline defense tools to stand against all possible threats.
Two innocent-looking packages were discovered on cargo planes bound from Yemen to the U.S. on Oct. 29, 2010, each containing bombs made with plastic explosives and detonating mechanisms. While no lives were lost, US air travel became stricter than ever. Terrorist demonstrations with weapons of mass destruction show that chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) attacks do not take place on distant battlefields — the modern-day battlefield could hit closer to home.
CBRN detection enables a more timely response to any hazardous material. In the past, handheld detectors were developed based on ion mobility spectrometry (IMS), which remains common today. “Equipment based on IMS provides an indication of the presence of questionable substance; however, it cannot identify and analyze the substance for more information,” said Dieter Rothbacher, MD of Hotzone Solutions.
In recent years, more products are developed based on Fourier transform IR spectrometry (FTIR). “FTIR-based instruments have the ability to analyze substance in both liquid and solid forms, and also give users a good idea of the gas substance in presence,” Rothbacher said. “Also, more analytical instruments come with built-in database library, providing on-spot information to instantly notify and identify a situation.” Presently, detection technology on these devices achieved great improvements in terms of sensitivity and reliability, which leads to improved accuracy rates.
For biological agent detection, the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technique has been taken out of laboratory settings and ruggedized for handheld biological agent detectors, said Lou Banks, Marketing Manager of Bio-Defense, Idaho Technology. “PCR is a molecular technology that detects trace amounts of pathogen DNA, which drastically enhances its sensitivity level.”
Biological agent detection has benefited from development in matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization- time of flight (MALDI-TOF) techniques. “For identification purposes, PCR remains a favorite, but efforts are put into the development of MALDI-TOF in combination with a mass spectrometer,” said Rutger Gaasbeek,Consultant at IB Consultancy. “Although most of these applications are developed for military purposes, they will slowly find their way to the civilian field, such as the health care sector.”
For chemical agents, enhanced sensing capabilities aim for better detection range and higher sensitivity. “Previously only chemical warfare agent (CWA) capability has been expanded to cover up to 30 toxic industrial or chemical gases,” said Osmo Anttalainen, VP of R&D Solutions at Environics. “In recent years,handheld detectors have become better at detecting a wider range of gases, resulting in better coverage of civil security needs in detection.”