Stolen Goods: Swapping Shipments with Sand

In numerous cases, Microtrace scientists have been asked to determine the geographic source of a sand sample that had been swapped out with a valuable product during transit.  Given that sand samples are rarely transported far from their source, the sciences of mineralogy, geology, palynology, and botany can be used to eliminate certain transit hubs or identify a specific location.  One example follows:

Stolen Silver

A large rail shipment containing steel milk cans should have contained silver flakes, which had been recovered from a precious metals refinery in Denver. These canisters were unloaded at a railway siding near a photographic company in New York.  The workers unloading the cargo thought they seemed lighter than the product they had unloaded in the past, and a few canisters were inspected.  The opened cans showed that almost all of the silver metal had been replaced with sand.  Analysis of several sands showed that all the sand originated from the same place.  Most importantly, by analyzing the pollen adhering to the sand grains as well as the light and heavy mineral fractions of the soil, we were able to determine that sand originated from Denver. Following our analysis of reference samples collected from the refinery and the rail yard, we were able to confirm that the switch had taken place in the Denver rail yard.

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