The Development of Cyanoacrylate Fuming Chambers

Our fingerprints are unique to each of us; in fact, our fingerprints are “set in stone” by the time we are just 17 weeks old in the womb. The discovery that no two people share the same fingerprints eventually led to the first criminal being convicted based on her fingerprints in Argentina in 1892. This completely revolutionized policing and solving crimes. As a result, latent fingerprints became one of the most useful tools for identifying suspects at a crime scene.

In that first case in Argentina, the investigator had to remove the door frame where a bloody fingerprint had been found in order to examine it and compare it against the suspect’s fingerprints. There was no better way to study prints. In fact, it didn’t get any easier to find and retain fingerprints from a crime scene until 1978, when the Criminal Identification Division of the Japanese National Police Agency developed a new way to reveal prints on non-porous surfaces. On the heels of the discovery, the US Army adopted the technique and brought it back to the United States. Since then, it has spread globally and is commonly used by fingerprint specialists and police forces around the world to acquire latent prints for identification.

The method discovered by the Japanese is called the cyanoacrylate fuming method, also called the superglue method. It involves putting the non-porous evidence with the latent print into a bag or chamber with a small warming plate filled with cyanoacrylate, or superglue. When the glue is hot enough, it becomes a vapor. The particles of cyanoacrylate attach to the oils on the fingerprint and harden. This makes the fingerprint semi-permanent, significantly more visible, and easier to dust and lift. And since the print is semi-permanent, it gives the fingerprint specialist more chances to lift the print in case of mistakes.

Since the process was often carried out under a fish tank or inside a large plastic bag, the fumes would escape and fingerprint specialists would be exposed. After years of exposure to the vapors produced by the process of cyanoacrylate fuming, some forensic lab technicians developed respiratory issues and even chronic coughs. In 1994, the FBI requested that the CDC investigate whether the cyanoacrylate fumes could be a contributing factor to their agents’ health concerns.

After looking into the issue and all the possible causes, the CDC concluded, “Based on the results of this evaluation, it was determined that the fingerprint specialists' chemical exposures while processing latent fingerprints at crime scenes could be a potential health hazard.” They also suggested that, “a properly designed and ventilated chamber,” be used when employing the superglue method.

Today, significantly more studies have been conducted on the safety of cyanoacrylate. While it is not considered toxic or carcinogenic, it is still often problematic. Vapor from cyanoacrylate is irritating to the eyes and mucous membranes, causing discomfort, lacrimation, and even blurred vision. Additionally, according to the safety data sheet for cyanoacrylate, “Prolonged and repeated overexposure to vapors may produce allergic reactions with asthma-like symptoms [rhinitis] in sensitive individuals.”

The Mystaire CA Series Fuming Chamber is the standard by which automated fingerprint development chambers are measured. Our patented recirculation filtration system with precise process controls for time, temperature and humidity put Mystaire CA chambers in a class of their own. Call today and speak with our knowledgeable staff about how our CA chambers can keep you safe from harmful cyanoacrylate fumes while helping you focus on solving crime.