Environmental Forensics

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Environmental forensic investigations determine when contaminants were released into the environment and who is responsible for them. A complete environmental investigation can include a wide range of components: historical document review, field study design, data collection and chemical analysis, data review, data interpretation, statistical analysis and modeling, science communication and testimony. Every environmental forensics investigation can be distinctly different, even though the components follow established scientific protocols.

Environmental forensics investigations are multi-disciplinary projects, centering on the contaminants and the physical-chemical properties of those contaminants. Therefore, knowledge of fundamental chemistry becomes extremely valuable for these investigations. Our team of experts have the background scientific knowledge and relevant project experience on what controls how chemicals move and distribute in the environment, how chemicals are measured, and variability associated in those measurements, as well as statistical certainty of what the measurements mean.

Experts at Chemistry Matters have assisted environmental forensic investigations by:  

  • Researching historical industrial practices and their contribution to chemicals of concern
  • Optimizing sample collection efforts with a tailored experimental design
  • Developing legal sampling plans and data quality objectives (DQO) for defensible results
  • Managing large datasets and performing data analysis using statistical methods
  • Modeling the contribution of multiple sources and identifying reference samples
  • Establishing chemical fingerprints and diagnostic ratios for forensic data interpretation
  • Understanding the impact of environmental fate and transport on chemical patterns
  • Communicating results in plain language with an emphasis on data visualization
  • Legal Sampling
  • Chain of Custody
  • Study Design
  • Data Analysis and Visualization
  • Data Wrangling
  • Multivariate Statistical Analysis
  • Principle Component (PCA), Hierarchical Cluster (HCA)
  • Salinity Assessment Tool
  • Science Communication
  • Data Science/Big Data
  • GC×GC Analysis
  • Source Apportionment
  • Fingerprinting
  • Diagnostic Ratios
  • Fate and Transport
  • Forensic Genetic Microbiology

Let’s discuss how Chemistry Matters can help with your forensic investigation.

Photos from the Field

When should I contact Chemistry Matters?

Often an investigation may have been underway for some time prior to the decision that it could become an environmental forensics situation. However, engagement of Chemistry Matters at the earliest possible time will ensure that more of the investigation is treated with the level of scrutiny required.

The decision to involve legal counsel is one way to determine that the investigation is worthy of a greater level of scientific support and effectively be considered as an environmental forensics investigation. This may occur early in an investigation or could be many years after the initiation of an investigation. It may be legal counsel that initiates the development of an environmental forensics investigation from something that may have originally been considered ‘routine’.

Why environmental forensics?

Environmental forensics is one of the central services offered by Chemistry Matters. We are engaged by companies to help determine the source of contamination as subject matter experts and provide addendum reports as third parties or for expert witness testimony detailing a wide range of expertise in environmental forensics.

Many people assume forensics only applies to legal issues.  But the term can be extended to its original meaning from latin “forens”, which means belonging to the forum or public. Therefore, public communication or public acceptance of environmental science could be included in the scope of environmental forensics studies, not just litigation matters.

Aside from litigious cases, Chemistry Matters treats investigations with complex chemistries, elevated background chemistries, novel sampling techniques and many other non-standard circumstances as environmental forensics cases. The need for in-depth understanding of chemistries and regulatory interaction in these situations is usually high. Defending non-standard circumstances requires a strong understanding of chemical foundations they are based upon.

Where has Chemistry Matters consulted on environmental forensics?

Example situations where Chemistry Matters has been retained for environmental forensics investigations are listed below to demonstrate the range of situations; we have provided environmental forensics expertise.

  • US Superfund sites
  • Oil spills where substantial technical support is required, where oil may require fingerprinting for potential natural interferences or concerns regarding historic releases within the release area
  • Urban brownfield sites where litigation is suspected, or a site likely requires more than standard chemical analysis to determine the history of use and potential contamination
  • Demonstration of natural, background chemistries triggering health-based guidelines
  • Co-mingled petroleum hydrocarbons plumes
  • Co-mingled contaminant plumes
  • Determining the source of historical PERC and chlorinated solvent releases

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