In our post 9/11 world, it’s more important than ever for first responders, the military and personnel involved with sensitive site exploitation (SSE) to be equipped and trained to deal with hazardous materials. It’s absolutely essential to be able to detect explosive and hazardous materials in order to protect lives and to help identify the suspects and bomb making facilities before or after an incident has occurred.

Morphix Technologies® a privately-owned American business located in Virginia Beach Virginia, is the world’s leader in creating and manufacturing easy-to-use, cost effective, reliable products that detect invisible dangers. It’s taken simple colorimetric (color change) technology and ruggedized it for field use. The ISO 9001:2008 certified company has sold over 10 million sensors for use by military, emergency response and industrial personnel.

A few years back, the company provided me with two of their products for evaluation that are of special interest to law enforcement and SSE teams — the Chameleon® Chemical Detection Kits and the TraceX® Explosive Detection Kit.

Chameleon Chemical Detection Armband & Kit

The Chameleon Chemical Detection Armband was developed for the US military to provide personnel with rugged, easy-to-use chemical detection. Photo courtesy Morphix Technologies.

The Chameleon Chemical Detection Armband was developed for the US military under funding from the US Marine Corps Small Business Research Innovation Research (SBIR) Program in order to provide personnel with rugged, easy-to-use chemical detection. In the past, chemical detection devices were too cumbersome and expensive for regular field use. The Chameleon was (and is) a game changer.

Since the initial launch of the Chameleon in 2005, Morphix Technologies has expanded the list of detectable chemicals, as well as pre-configured detection kits for specific circumstances. Morphix Technologies currently offers Hazmat, Clan-Meth-Lab, Chemical Suicide and Arson Investigation Detection Kits. The Hazmat Detection Kit can be used in a multitude of situations that may be encountered by first responders, including suspected clan-meth labs and chemical suicides

The Chamelon is designed to attach to the forearm for hands-free detection of gasses and vapors in the air, with no need for a liquid sample. It consists of an armband that holds up to 10 chemical detection cassettes. The armband is designed for an easy on/off fit, including over turn-out gear.

All of the Chameleon Chemical Detection Kits include two armbands (14” or 18”), one hard carrying case and 10 pouches containing a set of pre-configured chemical detection cassettes, along with full instructions, including photographs.

Each pouch contains one cassette each of the following: Hazmat — Acid (low pH), Base (high pH), Chlorine/Fluorine, Hydrogen Sulfide, Phosgene, Hydrogen Fluoride, Hydrazine, Iodine, Phosphine and Sulfur Dioxide. Arson Acid (low pH), Ammonia, Hydrogen Cyanide, Hydrogen Fluoride, Hydrogen Sulfide, Nitrogen Dioxide, Sulfure Dioxide and Phosgene. Clan-Meth Lab Acid (low pH), Ammonia, Hydrogen Sulfide, and Phosphine. Chemical Suicide Acid (low pH), Base (high pH), Hydrogen Sulfide, Phosphine and Sulfur Dioxide.

Chameleon uses a simple color-change chemical detection system. When two colors appear in the window, users know it’s time to take action. Photo courtesy Morphix Technologies.

Each cassette comes in a sealed, tear-open foil pouch that bears the name of the Hazmat chemical, along with a lot number and an expiration date. Shelf life is two years (24 months) at room temperature. The cassettes should be stored in a cool place (25°C / 77°F is optimum).although short term storage of 1.7°C to 140°C (35°F to 140°F) is acceptable.

Once the foil pouch is opened, the cassettes have a service life of 24 hours. They have an operating temperature range of -30°C to 50°C (-22°F to 122°F). Operating humidity range is 20% to 100% RH. They’re capable of immersion in fresh or salt water for one hour.

The cassettes are warranted for a period of two years or shelf life, whichever is less. Refill kits are available, as are individual cassettes. A Diborane cassette is also available. New cassettes are coming soon according to the company.

Chemical detection with the Chameleon is literally foolproof. You simply load cassettes prior to use and put on the armband. If the chemical is present, one half of the viewing window on the cassette will change color. There’s no calibration. There are no batteries to fail. The armband positioning allows the user to continuously monitor the surrounding air for hazardous chemicals at a glance while engaged in other tasks.

Morphix Technologies also makes a Chameleon training kit that is designed for classroom demonstrations. The training kit includes ampules of ammonia inhalant (“smelling salts”) and training cassettes. The “smelling salts” make the training cassette change color to provide an actual example of the Chameleon in use.

TraceX Explosive Detection  Kit

The TraceX Explosive Detection Kit is designed to help identify bombers, bomb-makers and their bomb-making facilities. The TraceX collection system, shown open, protects the sample from user contamination, so you can have confidence in the result. Photo courtesy Morphix Technologies.

The TraceX Explosive Detection Kit was developed under contract from the US Department of Defense to meet military needs for an affordable, easy-to-use product that detects all major explosive material threats without exposing the user or kit to contamination or dangerous chemicals.

Introduced in 2013, the TraceX Explosive Detection Kit is designed to identify bombers and their bomb making facilities. It can detect all major home made explosives (HMEs) and their precursors with a single swab. The TraceX Explosive Detection Kit is compatible with Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) or bomb squad robots, allowing personnel to keep a safe distance from suspected material.

The Improvised Explosive Device (IED) is the weapon of choice of terrorists around the globe. Domestic law enforcement must deal with the reality that terrorists will seek to employ this tactic on American soil.

Law enforcement is faced with a dual role of uncovering bombers and bomb making networks before and incident and investigating the aftermath of any incident. Terrorist events, such as the bombings of the London subway or the Boston marathon, underscore this need.

The Pentagon has warned that the US faces an increasing IED threat at home. In public testimony before the House Homeland Security Committee, US Army Lieutenant General Michael Barbero, who was at the time the Director of the Pentagon’s Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO), stated, “The domestic IED threat from both homegrown extremists and global threat networks is real and presents a significant security challenge for the United States.”

Electronic explosive detection devices (“sniffers”) have traditionally been used to detect common explosive materials and their precursors. These devices are expensive and require regular maintenance. Additionally, they require considerable specialized training to use.

Specially trained dogs are also used to detect explosives by using their noses which are very sensitive to scents. Dogs can be very effective, however their capabilities become degraded as they tire or become bored.

The affordable and easy-to-use TraceX Explosives Detection Training Kit makes training simple. Morphix Technologies also offers a Chameleon Training Kit to training facilities. Photo courtesy Morphix Technologies.

Although colorimetric explosive detection kits have been available for some time, they are often difficult to use and interpret. They also often require the user to mix chemical and perform multiple tests. These kits can also expose the user to toxic chemicals and can expose the kit to contamination from the environment which leads to unreliable results.

The TraceX Explosive Detection Kit comes in a tear-open hermetically-sealed plastic pouch with complete operating instructions. The pouch bears a lot number and expiration date. The kit itself is housed in its own disposable protective hard plastic case.

The entire kit measures only 131 mm x 92 mm x 17 mm (5.25” x 3.75” x 0.75”). It’s small enough to fit in a cargo pocket. It’s sensitive enough to detect trace levels of explosives and precursors (can also detect bulk levels).

The TraceX Explosive Detection Kit detects all of the major families of explosive materials and the precursors: Nitroaromatics (TNT, DNT, Tetryl), Nitramines & Nitrate Esters (RDX, HMX, PETN, EGDN, NG), Inorganic Nitrates (urea nitrate, ammonium nitrate, black powder), Chlorates & Bromates (potassium chlorate, potassium bromate), Peroxides (TATP, HMTD), Acids (nitric acid, sulfuric acid, citric acid) and Bases (potassium hydroxide, sodium hydroxide).

The TraceX Explosives Detection Kit is extremely simple to use. A single swab and crush is all that is necessary. All chemicals are contained inside the plastic case. There’s a low potential for sample contamination. The sampling site is protected by cover and the user swabs with handle. The testing and results are all conducted within the case.

Results are clearly indicated. A single color indicates the presence of a particular family of explosive material. While standard pens and wipes can detect between 1-3 and 1-4 explosive families in one test cycle in two to 12 minutes respectively, the TraceX Explosives Kit can detect nine in under three minutes

The TraceX Explosive Detection Kit has an operating temperature range of 2°C to 50°C (35°F to 122°F). The operating humidity range is 20% to 95% RH. Shelf Life is 12 months at room temperature. Short term excursions up to 50°C (122°F) are acceptable.

The TraceX Explosive Detection Kit originally was able to stay stable for up to one year (12 months). It now has a two-year (24 month) shelf life, which means end users will be able to save more money in the long run.

The TraceX Explosives Detection Kit is available in boxes of five kits. Morphix Technologies also offers a TraceX Explosive Detection Training Kit. The training kit includes a TraceX Kit, blue plastic film, sealed foil pouch containing citric acid powder and operating instructions.

To Sum Up

Morphix Technologies colorimetric detection devices are like no other on the market today. They offer capabilities that are unmatched by competing products. They’re rugged, safe and easy to use. They’re also affordably priced.

Material Disclosure

I received this product as a courtesy from the manufacturer so I could test it and give my honest feedback. I am not bound by any written, verbal or implied contract to give this product a good review. All opinions are my own and are based off my personal experience with the product.

*The views and opinions expressed on this website are solely those of the original authors and contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of Spotter Up Magazine, the administrative staff, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

By Eugene Nielsen

Eugene Nielsen provides intelligence and security consulting services. He has a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of California. His byline has appeared in numerous national and international journals and magazines.

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