Gunshot Residue and Brakepads: Compositional and Morphological Considerations for Forensic Casework

William Tucker, Nicholas Lucas, Kelsey Seyfang, Kenneth Kirkbride, Rachel Popelka-Filcoff

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    13 Citations (Scopus)


    Previous research has raised the possibility that automotive brake pads can produce particles that are both compositionally and morphologically similar to gunshot residue (GSR). These studies, published in the early 2000s, coincided with the reduction or removal of unnecessary sources of lead from the automotive industry. The question therefore arises whether modern brake pads might still be a relevant source of ‘GSR-like’ particles. In the present study, a total of 75 brake pads taken from a range of cars currently on the road in Adelaide, South Australia, were collected from service centres. These pads were screened by XRF, and 12 were selected as representatives of the types of pads available on the market. Some pads generated XRF results for elements particularly relevant to GSR analysis. Signals for barium and antimony were commonly observed, with some pads showing results possibly attributable to lead. The surfaces of these 12 pads were directly sampled using aluminium stubs equipped with carbon-filled adhesive tape. Following this, they were screened using SEM-EDS and an automated GSR particle search in order to detect particles containing lead, barium or antimony. No particles containing all of these elements were found, although a large number of particles containing both barium and antimony were located. Other particulate samples were collected using stubs from persons or objects associated with brakes in order to examine whether particles similar to GSR might be present on them. No three-component particles were detected in samples collected from the wheel rims or the hands of those exposed to automobiles. From this study of common, contemporary cars, brake pads and brake pad technicians, it was determined that the possibility of obtaining three-component ‘GSR-like’ particles from brake pads appears to be much lower now than when this issue was first raised in the early 2000s. While some brake pads do produce particles containing barium and antimony, they are often angular particles that contain sulphur. Furthermore, these ‘GSR-like’ particles are commonly found together with an abundance of particles containing iron. The particle evidence evaluated in total allows clear differentiation between residues originating from brakes and residues originating from firearms.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)76-82
    Number of pages7
    JournalForensic Science International
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2017


    • Brake pads
    • Forensic science
    • Gunshot residue
    • Particulate matter
    • Scanning electron microscopy
    • X-ray fluorescence


    Dive into the research topics of 'Gunshot Residue and Brakepads: Compositional and Morphological Considerations for Forensic Casework'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this