OED: sniffing out drugs faster


Customs Administration of the Netherlands (Customs) is constantly working on new, smarter methods and technologies. This is necessary to respond to the drug criminals' increasingly cunning smuggling methods. One particular innovation is the Odour Extracting Device (OED), developed especially to check containers more quickly using sniffer dogs. This method, in which we extract air from containers, is unique in the customs world. Interest in the method is being expressed worldwide, especially by our foreign customs colleagues.

Customs has been using dogs to combat drug smuggling for many years. Dogs have an excellent sense of smell and can recognise all kinds of smells. The OED is a way of making the most of that special talent. We no longer even have to open the containers we want to check with this method. We now put a hollow metal pin through the rubbers of the doors. A tube goes through it, which is connected to a vacuum pump. That pump sucks the air from the container over cotton wool into a glass jar. The cotton wool works like a sieve: the molecules stick to the fibres.

The dogs then smell the jars. This takes place in a controlled, non-stimulating and sterile area at a fixed temperature. In those conditions, a dog can check 10 pots within 20 seconds. The dog's reaction tells us which containers to inspect further. That could be because they contain drugs. But they could also contain chemicals used to make drugs, tobacco and money. The technique works on anything that emits molecules. We can use the method in all sorts of places, from Eemshaven to Vlissingen. Apart from a permanent space in the port of Rotterdam, we also have a mobile space in a truck.

Sniffer dog smells jars of scent molecules

OED can also be used for spaces other than containers, provided they are sealed. And we can use the method for awkward shipments. Criminals are making things increasingly difficult for Customs. For example, they mix cocaine with flour so you cannot see the drugs on a scan. Or they put drugs in scrap metal, which a dog cannot reach. OED makes it easier for us to track down such illegal shipments.

With OED, we can carry out more checks in the same amount of time, with less hindrance to the logistics process. For example, we do not need to break the seal of a container with this method. Or unload the goods. The goods remain "as they are". This is also better from an insurance point of view. And not needing to open refrigerated containers of fruit avoids the ripening process starting earlier. We can also check much earlier with OED, such as when the goods are already on board a ship. An employee can go there and extract some air. That way, we know whether we need to check further even before the containers are on the quay.

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