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Plastic banknotes won't foil justice

What does the introduction of plastic banknotes mean for trace detection of illicit drugs on money evidence?

As the introduction of plastic banknotes in Scotland has begun, England awaits the much anticipated polymer £5 note in 2016. The new bank notes are said to last 2.5 times longer and are cleaner than the paper banknotes used today.

Cleaner? What does that mean for trace detection of illicit drugs and other substances on banknotes in the future?

Mass Spec researchers are already preparing for the changes working with the Bank of England to ensure the transition from paper to plastic as smooth as possible.  We are determined to take such changes in our stride and continue with the excellent reputation we have earned helping the justice system by analysing banknotes and other items for traces of drugs.

The first challenge we have is the plastic polymer material itself. The thermal desorber that we use today for paper banknotes will be adapted for the new material and tests run to date have been successful.

One of the attractions of polymer money is that it collects fewer bacteria than paper banknotes and can even be ‘cleaned.’ A study by the University of Ballarat in Australia found that there were usually fewer bacteria on polymer bills than cotton-based ones – a health bonus for all!

However for Mass Spec, we’re not looking for bacteria but rather particles of illicit substances that link the money to drug related activities. The contact of the banknotes to the particles in question is normally a short time before they are seized; thereby eliminating any chance of the money being ‘cleaned’. In addition, large volumes of cash are inevitably going to be difficult to fully clean quickly and effectively, enabling our analysis to stand strong with many different cash seizures. Mass Spec’s tests are proving that our methods of detecting traces of substances on polymer banknotes is just as effective as those that we use on paper banknotes today.

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Image Credit: © Janis Smits |

Contact Mass Spec Analytical on  +44(0)117 428 5787