updated 9/23/2004 9:58:06 AM ET 2004-09-23T13:58:06

A new device that scans documents for traces of explosives has made its debut at four of the nation’s busiest airports, where officials will use it to screen selected passengers.

Federal security screeners started testing the equipment Wednesday at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago.

It is also being used at Los Angeles International Airport, John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York and Washington Reagan National Airport to detect chemical residue on the surface of items such as wallets, passports and airline boarding passes.

Not all passengers will be required to go through the document screening. It will be used for passengers selected by security workers and those who set off alarms at checkpoints, said Michael Zunk, federal security director for the Transportation Security Administration at O’Hare.

Dozens of chemicals could trigger the scanners, including nitroglycerin taken by heart patients, fertilizer and gunpowder residue.

“If you trigger the device, you will go through a questioning process as to what have you touched, where have you been, what have you done?” Zunk said.

The TSA is spending $300,000 to deploy a scanner at each of the airports, agency spokeswoman Amy von Walter said.

After a 30-day pilot program, officials will weigh whether to buy scanners for all the nation’s 429 commercial airports.

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