Contaminated land and groundwater remediation in military waste dumping sites often necessitates the use of simple, cost-effective and rapid tests for detecting trinitrotoluene (TNT) and trinitrophenol (picric acid; PA) residues in the field along with their dinitro-analogues. Using PA as the model compound, a simple and field-adaptable (on-site) colorimetric method was developed for quantifying PA in the presence of dinitrophenol (DNP) and mononitrophenol (NP). Most commercialized methods for TNT assay-with the exception of CRREL method-use proprietary chemicals, and the color stability and intensity are highly dependent on the composition of the organic solution comprised of acetone or methanol. The developed colorimetric method here is based on the extraction of the Meisenheimer anion formed from the reaction of PA and aqueous NaOH into isobutyl methyl ketone (IBMK) with a cationic surfactant such as cetylpyridinium bromide (CPB). The orange-red color that developed in the organic phase was persistent for at least 30 min. TNT formed a similar extractable red complex under these conditions. If present, 2,4-dinitrophenol (DNP) and 4-nitrophenol (NP) could be detected by the same method at 17-and 167-fold concentrations of the LOD of PA, i.e. 1.5 ppm. DNP alone could be quantified by another charge-transfer (CT) agent, imidazole, as a yellow product at 400 nm in 98% EtOH solution. Under the same conditions, the intramolecular CT-band due to PA was essentially not intensified upon addition of the imidazole ligand, enabling the estimation of the DNP concentration from absorbance difference of solutions with and without imidazole, due to the intermolecular CT absorption of the latter. NP alone could be detected with a diphenylamine solution in H2SO4 to produce a blue color. (C) 2003 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.