Highest Traces of Cocaine and Dirtiest Money Found on U.S. Bills

Highest Traces of Cocaine and Dirtiest Money Found on U.S. Bills

Jeanna Bryner / Senior Writer LiveScience.com
Tue Aug 5, 2008 10:10 AM ET

Paper money contains high traces of cocaine, regardless of whether or
not the paper money came into direct contact with the drug. And U.S.
bills take the top spot, covered in the greatest amount of the illegal
powder, while Spanish notes are the most highly contaminated in Europe,
a new study finds.

The findings, detailed in the latest issue of the journal Trends in
Analytical Chemistry, reflect the popularity of the illicit drug, the
researchers say.

"These findings should not be surprising, because cocaine and other
drugs are traded using cash, which is handled by the same fingers that
directly touch the drugs or wrappings," chemists Sergio Armenta and
Miguel de la Guardia from the University of Valencia in Spain write.
"Moreover, many cocaine users use a wrapped banknote to sniff this
drug, so inducing direct cocaine contamination of the banknotes."

Armenta and de la Guardia analyzed Spanish notes for cocaine traces,
finding they contained an average of 155 micrograms of cocaine. (A gram
of cocaine would fill about half a tea bag. A microgram is
one-millionth of that amount.)

They also reviewed previous research focusing on cocaine concentrations found in different currencies around the world.

German Euros contained levels of cocaine that were five times lower than the Spanish ones.
For Irish bank notes, one statistic suggested that of 48 notes studied the highest concentration found was 0.5 micrograms.

The chemists found U.S. bills contained an average of between 2.9 and
28.8 micrograms of cocaine depending on the year and city, with a
maximum of more than 1,300 micrograms found on some 1996 bills.

One study based on 356 notes showed just 6 percent of Swiss francs were
contaminated with cocaine at levels above one nanogram per note, where
a nanogram is one-thousandth of a microgram. Some data suggest, the
researchers found, that between 40 percent and about 50 percent of
British pounds were contaminated with cocaine at levels of about 0.0011
micrograms per note.

It turns out, money really is dirty, and not just with drug traces. One
past study revealed 94 percent of $1 bills collected from a community
in western Ohio contained disease-causing or potentially
disease-causing bacteria. The study, published in 2002 in the Southern
Medical Journal, was led by Peter Ender, chief of infectious diseases
at Wright-Patterson Medical Center in Ohio.

That’s not too surprising, as $1 bills stay in circulation for an
average of 21 months, according to the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and
Printing, during which time they get handled by plenty of people. For
larger bills, the life span is even longer, with $20 bills lasting
about 24 months and $50 bills staying in circulation for 55 months.

When you handle coins, stuff also gets transferred to your hands,
though it’s mainly iron atoms (iron is one of the metals in change).
Another research study revealed iron atoms from coins cause oils on
your skin to break down, producing a "metallic" odor.

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