On-site Analysis of World War II Cylinders and Barrels with Unknown Contents

Enrico Davoli, Luigi Cappellini, Roberto Fanelli, Michele Bonsignore, Marco Gavinelli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


An on-site approach is presented to solve an analytical problem that had potential hazards. Some barrels and one cylinder, with unknown contents, were found underground. There were reasons to suspect that they might hold chemical warfare (CW) agents, but neither the class of compounds nor their physical state (solid, liquid, or gas) was known. Their conditions did not allow transport to a laboratory. It was decided to install an on-site, direct sampling system so as to minimize sample handling risks, and to use mass spectrometry to analyze the vapors inside the barrels. A small commercial bench-top quadrupole was adapted to sample the gas phase directly, possibly at high pressure. The whole system allowed the operators to open the barrels and the cylinder and to analyze and dispose of the contents safely, on-site. Mass spectra indicated that most of the containers were empty, a few contained water and hydrocarbons, and one had phosgene gas.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)313-319
Number of pages7
JournalField Analytical Chemistry and Technology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2001


  • Chemical warfare agents
  • Mass spectrometry
  • On-site analysis
  • World War II

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Analytical Chemistry
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Instrumentation


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