18/01/2020 - 12:00
By Lorna Siggins
Traces of cocaine were found on every single banknote tested in the west of Ireland as part of research into contaminated notes.
Research on traces of cocaine on banknotes in the west of Ireland has found on 100% of notes showed levels of the recreational drug.
Lower denominations of banknotes showed higher levels of the illegal substance, Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) chemistry and forensic science lecturer Dr Philip White notes.
“Five euro and €10 notes had most prevalent traces,” Dr White, lead researcher in the study presented at a conference in Sligo yesterday said.
This is in contrast to previous studies of cocaine on banknotes in Britain and on the Irish east coast, where higher levels of the substance were found on higher banknote denominations.
As Dr White explained, students were despatched to a number of night clubs, pubs and other premises in and around Galway over the past two years with €50 banknotes, which they changed to obtain lower denominations.
These notes were then tested in the GMIT laboratory in Galway using a technique known as chromatographic deconvolution – a non-destructive method of testing notes by immersing them in a number of different solvents.
“We began by testing for all sorts of substances, and found levels of marijuana, along with other substances like sunscreens and food preservatives, but cocaine turned out to be the most prevalent recreational drug and we focused on that,” Dr White said.
Among 50 individual banknotes from various locations tested, most had “background” levels of cocaine, while some 30 to 40% had “medium” levels, he said.
This would suggest indirect contact with heavily contaminated notes in tills, in ATMs and in wallets, Dr White noted.
Some 8% had very high levels, suggesting they were used in direct deals or in substance use, such as snorting with rolled-up notes.
His study with a number of GMIT researchers suggests the non-destructive technique, adapted from a method of testing used in Spain, could be used to test for other illicit substances.
The research will be of value to forensic science, Dr White said.
“Basically, a forensic examination of notes in a wallet can give an indication of a person’s activity over the last 24 hours – but does not necessarily suggest that notes contaminated with drugs confirms direct use,” he cautioned.
Dr White recalled a case of a bus driver wrongfully dismissed several years ago in Britain for having traces of cocaine on his hands, due to handling contaminated notes.
He presented the results at a Connacht-Ulster Alliance collaborative research conference in Sligo yesterday, involving three institutes of technology in the Connacht-Ulster region.
A similar study published in 2007 by Dublin City University (DCU) researchers in the Royal Society of Chemistry's journal, The Analyst, found that every banknote tested was contaminated by traces of cocaine.
In that study, a total of 45 banknotes were analysed using a chromatography/mass spectrometry method, and one in 20 notes showed high levels of contamination.
The 2007 research was conducted at DCU's national centre for sensor research, and was funded by the Irish Research Council for Science, Engineering and Technology.