In 2008, an unknown white powder was discovered spilled inside of a shipping container of whole kernel corn during an
inspection by federal inspectors in the port of Baltimore, Maryland. The container was detained and quarantined while a
sample of the powder was collected and sent to a federal laboratory where it was screened using chromatography for the
presence of specific poisons and pesticides with negative results. Samples of the corn kernels and the white powder were
forwarded to the Food and Drug Administration, Forensic Chemistry Center for further analysis. Stereoscopic Light
Microscopy (SLM), Scanning Electron Microscopy/Energy Dispersive X-ray Spectrometry (SEM/EDX), and Polarized
Light Microscopy/Infrared Spectroscopy (PLM-IR) were used in the analysis of the kernels and the unknown powder.
Based on the unique particle analysis by SLM and SEM as well as the detection of the presence of aluminum and
phosphorous by EDX, the unknown was determined to be consistent with reacted aluminum phosphide (AlP). While
commonly known in the agricultural industry, aluminum phosphide is relatively unknown in the forensic community. A
history of the use and acute toxicity of this compound along with some very unique SEM/EDX analysis characteristics
of aluminum phosphide will be discussed.