Corrosion behaviour of four handguns in aqueous environments: corrosion product characterization and effects on estimating the time since deposition

Sci Justice. 2013 Sep;53(3):363-70. doi: 10.1016/j.scijus.2013.04.010. Epub 2013 May 31.


When a firearm has been disposed of in a body of water and becomes corroded, its appearance is altered and determining a time-since-immersion may be of import to the investigation. Therefore, in this study, the corrosion and mass loss of four handgun slides over a period of 180days were examined. Solid-state characterization of the metals and their corrosion products via SEM/EDX and powder X-ray Diffraction (pXRD) was performed. The pXRDs were analyzed against the NIST Powder Diffraction Database to determine the crystalline phases. Filings from the SS416 standard, Llama and Ruger handgun slide predominantly consisted of iron alloys. After 180-days in solution, pXRD indicated that the adherent corrosion products consisted of 1) γ-FeOOH and 2) iron oxide (Fe3O4 or Fe2O3). Additionally, pXRD analysis indicated that the adherent corrosion products of the SS416 standard also consisted of CrO3. Metal filings from the Raven and Jennings handgun slides were a mixture of iron-nickel-zinc and EDX and pXRD analyses of the corrosion products, when submersed in deionized water, indicated that the products consisted of: 1) γ-FeOOH, 2) iron oxide (Fe3O4 or Fe2O3), and 3) ZnFe2O4 or ZnO; where the Jennings adherent rust contained ZnFe2O4 and the Raven adherent rust contained ZnO. Further, pXRD of the corrosion products from these alloys, when submersed in 25 PSU (Practical Salinity Unit) solution, indicated that the products consisted of: 1) ZnO, 2) Zn(OH)2, 3) α-Ni(OH)2, and 4) NaCl. The data thus indicated that both metal composition and the presence of chloride ions had significant impacts on rates and products of corrosion and suggest that the presence of Cl(-) changes not only the rate of corrosion, but also the corroding species itself. While mechanisms and rates of the chloride driven corrosion processes offer explanations as to the different oxides and hydroxides observed between immersion conditions, they do not offer an explanation for the differences observed between handguns. Therefore, utilizing a general approach where surface area coverage of corrosion products is the sole consideration is not sufficient to determine time-since-immersion. Attempts to determine a time-since-immersion would require a priori knowledge of the mechanism of corrosion for a given metal mixture within a specified environment. The results described herein give indications as to the possible corrosion mechanism driving the process in high and low Cl(-) environments and show the necessity of including the metal composition, rust composition and ion concentration in any models that attempt to elucidate the time-since-immersion of handguns for forensic applications.

Keywords: Corrosion; Firearms; Forensic Sciences; Time since deposition; Time since immersion; pXRD.