Environmental Forensics Investigations

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Environmental forensics investigations help determine when and how contaminants are released into the environment and who is responsible for them.

Often, Chemistry Matters is engaged by companies to help determine the source of contamination and provide expert witness testimony detailing who may in fact be responsible for the contaminants.

Chemistry Matters provides full project support that can include project planning (sampling design, legal sampling and chain of custody), data interpretation and statistical analysis, and expert witness testimony.

Environmental forensics is complex, requiring multidisciplinary expertise to determine sources and/or timing of environmental releases.

Part of Chemistry Matters Inc. expertise includes fingerprinting contaminants using a variety of methods, including two-dimensional gas chromatography (GCxGC, 2DGC).

Environmental Forensics Projects

Chemistry Matters has been involved in Environmental Forensics Investigations (EFIs) addressing:

Project Considerations

Successful Environmental Forensics Investigations apply:

  • Chemical fate and transport
  • Environmental chemistry
  • Analytical chemistry
  • Isotope chemistry
  • Environmental sampling
  • Multivariate and univariate statistics
  • Receptor modelling

Accused of releasing contaminants into the environment?

Environmental Forensics Investigations Case Studies

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Photos from the Field

What is Environmental Forensics?

Environmental forensics is the application of scientific methods used to identify the origin and timing of a contaminant release.

What does the term "Environmental Forensics" mean?

Forensics is derived from latin “forens”, meaning of, belonging to the forum, public. Therefore…
Environmental forensics – determining identity, source, or timing of contaminant release for the purpose of public communication and/or litigation.

Where did the term "Environmental Forensics" come from?

Environmental forensics is a term developed during the investigation of the Exxon Valdez spill. Environmental forensics uses the very best science for the purpose of litigation; think CSI-contamination!

In the case of the Exxon Valdez spill, environmental forensics developed in order to differentiate residual traces of oil chemicals resulting from the spill from a background of natural oil seeps and other anthropogenically-derived oil chemicals found in the spill area.

Doesn’t the word "forensics" always mean a legal matter?

Although the term of “forensics” is associated with law and litigation, the meaning of forensics makes people think of an in-depth examination that proves cause or provides evidence beyond a reasonable doubt.

As mentioned above, forensics is derived from the latin word “forens”, meaning of, belonging to the forum, public.  This relates to how trials were completed where the plaintiff and the defendant would present their case to a public forum to determine the outcome of their dispute.  The concept of public acceptance or forum links this word to provide evidence enough for the public to accept or determine who is responsible.

Therefore, I would argue that the word “forensics” can be used to describe non-legal issues.  I think forensics has a meaning to provide evidence enough for the public to understand  the issues and determine the verdict.  So, forensics is not so much about legal but may be more about the communication of information so that all can understand the concepts in order to make an informed decision.

So, here’s how I define forensics:

Forensics – the application of scientific knowledge and analysis to potential litigious issues OR for public discussion or debate.

What is the goal of an environmental forensics investigation?

The goal is to determine the source and/or timing of a contaminant release to the environment.

What differentiates an Environmental Forensics Investigation (EFI) from a standard environmental investigation?

There really should not be any difference! However, normal environmental investigations often do not provide sufficient documentation, do not use sufficiently advanced science, or do not provide a sufficiently advanced scientific foundation to describe the observations of the investigation.

Where an environmental investigation provides reporting of findings, an EFI provides scientifically sound, reasoned answers for how the findings came about.

When should I initiate an EFI?

This is not a simple question to answer. An asset manager will understand the situations where litigation or liability implications may be likely. This is the time to initiate an EFI.

EFIs can be coupled to a historic environmental investigation, however, the earlier an environmental investigation becomes an environmental forensic investigation, generally, the better the outcome.

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