A portal apparatus for screening objects or persons for the presence of trace amounts of chemical substances such as illicit drugs or explosives. The apparatus has a test space, in which a person may stand, defined by two generally upright sides spanned by a horizontal transom. One or more fans in the transom generate a downward air flow (uni-directional) within the test space. The air flows downwardly from a high pressure upper zone, past the object or person to be screened. Air moving past the object dislodges from the surface thereof both volatile and nonvolatile particles of the target substance. The particles are entrained into the air flow which continues flowing downward to a lower zone of reduced pressure, where the particle-bearing air stream is directed out of the test space and toward preconcentrator and detection components. The sides of the portal are specially configured to partially contain and maintain the air flow.