Geoforensics Services at Chemistry Matters

Geoforensic Investigations

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Geoforensics is the application of scientific methods to provide expert testimony regarding innovative approaches for regulatory efforts and contaminant identification. Understanding the geochemistry is critical to investigate the source(s) of chemical constituents (natural or man-made) in gases, groundwater, soil, and/or rock. The Chemistry Matters team provides the expert interpretation and essential communication of findings to the public or for litigation purposes in a scientifically and legally defensible manner.

Chemistry Matters is able to resolve unique geoforensic issues with a primary focus on surface casing vent (SCV) or gas migration (GM) investigations. Gas migration investigations center on gas movement from a well into the atmosphere posing risks for the surrounding environment. SCV investigations can involve both liquids and gases coming to surface.  Sampling can be completed through soil probes to identify soil gas sources as well as gas and/or liquid samples taken from a well’s surface casing vent. Sensitive approaches are being employed to evaluate petroleum hydrocarbons using chemical fingerprinting methods to identify different geological formations (even if they are very similar in origin). GM events rely on a combination of concentration-dependent compositional and concentration-independent isotopic analysis.

Chemistry Matters provides a definitive method of environmental investigation with specialist interpretation and conclusive results. We ensure high quality reference samples using a sophisticated approach to preserve sample integrity. In addition, our innovative sample collection and analytical techniques guarantee effective quality assurance for routine and non-routine isotope analysis.

The experts at Chemistry Matters have assisted geoforensic investigations by: 

  • Characterizing gas and/or fluid sources using composition, extended metals analysis and compound specific isotope analysis
  • Designing experiments which optimizes sample collection while ensuring effective reference samples
  • Ensuring high-quality and legally defensible sampling with conclusive interpretations
  • Leveraging our experience with a wide variety of samples and sampling techniques
  • Explaining complex analytical procedures as qualified experts in an understandable way
  • Interpreting results from statistical analysis (univariate and multivariate) and mixing models
  • Instilling confidence in results and interpretations with scientifically validated methodology
  • Legal Sampling
  • Chain of Custody
  • Study Design
  • Data Analysis and Visualization
  • Data Wrangling
  • Multivariate Statistical Analysis
  • Principle Component (PCA), Hierarchical cluster (HCA)
  • Science Communication
  • Data Science/Big Data
  • GC×GC Analysis
  • Fingerprinting
  • Diagnostic Ratios
  • Soil gas sampling
  • Surface casing vent sampling

Ready to discuss how Chemistry Matters can help with your forensic investigation?

Photos from the Field

When should I contact Chemistry Matters to assess potential chemical exposure?

Ideally, Chemistry Matters should be contacted at the planning stage. Experimental and study design is paramount in an effective biomonitoring program.  A sufficient number of samples from control and exposed populations are required to make conclusive determination of exposure.  In addition, the right analytical methods and assessment of covariates (for example, lipid content or creatinine concentrations) are required for sample to sample comparison purposes.   Selecting the appropriate indicator species (non-migratory, limited movement) and controlling for factors such as size and weight help make the data more comparable and provide results that are more conclusive.

If data has already been collected, it’s not too late to contact the experts at Chemistry Matters. We have the expertise to manage large datasets, perform data quality checks, and statistically analyze the data for confident interpretation and communication of results.

Does compound specific isotope analysis apply to other types of contaminants?

Compound-specific isotope analysis (CSIA) can also be applied to investigate dechlorination of chlorinated groundwater contaminates from the carcinogenic trichloroethene (TCE) to toxic daughter products, cis-1,2-dichloroethene (cDCE) and vinyl chloride (VC), before finally degrading to non-toxic ethene ( Ruder, 2006 ; ATSDR, 2006 ). As shown in the figure, as TCE is dechlorinated over time, the heavier carbon isotope (δ13C) will become enriched ( Mundle, 2011 ).

δ 13C Values Versus Time

δ13C values versus time for dechlorination of TCE to Ethene. The isotope ratio is represented by the solid lines as TCE degrades to cDCE, VC and ethene. The horizontal dashed line represents the initial δ13Co of TCE (Mundle et al, 2011).

Are all your projects for legal matters?

Not all projects.

We work on non-legal matters, but usually the projects are complicated, high visibility, have a large potential liability or could eventually become litigious.

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.

In fact, 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.

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