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Trace detection of synthetic drugs production in waste waters (GEOAMP)

Research project DR/37 (Research action DR)

Persons :

Description :

The consumption of synthetic drugs, mainly amphetamine and 3,4-methylenedioxymethyl-amphetamine (MDMA or Ecstasy) has been enhanced for several years. A strong increase in the production of these drugs has been observed in Belgium since the end of the Eighties: each year, approximately 10 laboratories are dismantled in our country.The border areas are mainly touched by the phenomenon of the clandestine laboratories.
The total increase in the production of amphetamine and MDMA is strongly supported by two factors: firstly the ease of synthesis of these products starting from uncontrolled raw materials ; secondly, accessibility to the literature devoted to this subject in particular on the Internet.

For the police, the elimination of waste in water represents a possibility to detect the existence of clandestine laboratories by analyzing water samples.
The production of one kilo of pure amphetamine involves the formation of at least 30 kilos of waste. Several tons of this waste would thus be produced by a clandestine laboratory working at full capacity during one month. The producers dispose of their waste by throwing cans and jerry cans in nature, pouring it on the public highway or in surface water. It is probable that waste is also evacuated in the sewer system.

First of all, an identification of the relevant molecules present in waste coming from clandestine laboratories and provided by the police will be carried out. Different analytical techniques (GC-MS, LC-MS and ICP-MS) and sample preparation methods will be developped for this purpose. Specific markers of amphetamine and MDMA synthesis will be identified among precursors, intermediaries of synthesis and main degradation products.
Secondly, the solubility, concentrations and stability of these markers will be studied in surface water and waste water. Biotic and abiotic breakdown will be determined in a controlled environment.
Afterwards approximately 100 water samples originating from waste water treatment plants and rivers will be analysed for the selected markers.

The aim of this project is to establish if it is possible to link the presence of some markers in water samples to the existence of illegal amphetamine synthesis. To be totally efficient, the analysis has to be fast to show the presence of evidence when the synthesis is still going on.
This analytical method and results obtained are also useful in other ways for the legal authorities: it provides information on the geographical distribution of the waste disposal from clandestine laboratories and the possibility to track back from a zone of waste disposal until a production site of synthetic drugs.

This project will allow the development of new investigation tools to research and dismantle clandestine laboratories.

Documentation :

Detectie van sporen van de productie van synthetische drugs in oppervlaktewater : eindrapport = Recherche de traces de production de drogues de synthèse dans les eaux usées : rapport final    Brussel : Federaal Wetenschapsbeleid, 2010 (SP2234)
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