ENVIRONMENTAL FORENSICS: DETERMINING WHEN, WHAT, WHERE, WHO AND HOW CHEMICALS WERE RELEASED
Subsurface releases of chlorinated and petroleum hydrocarbons (drycleaner and degreasing solvents, crude oils and refined products such as gasoline) are one of the most frequent causes of groundwater contamination in the United States. They are the subject of billions of dollars spent in investigation, remediation, property damage claims, and litigation. In order to differentiate the nature and sources of contamination, detailed chemical data of the in situ contamination and its potential sources must be collected and compared, to properly allocate contaminant ownership.
Many forensic tools are available during the forensic investigations to accomplish the objective of determining when, what, where, who and how; several have been used for decades and others are now more widely used due to improvements in laboratory analytical capabilities. For example, trace elements can be used to track surface and groundwater contaminant plumes. We have used Boron to track leachate emanating from municipal solid waste landfills because it is extensively used in disinfectants, preservatives, and as a fluxing agent in glass and enamels; is readily soluble in water; and will travel greater distances than some hydrocarbons and most heavy metals. We have also used rare earth elements to track refinery effluent and sediment and waste soil dumped into rivers.
More recently, we have used CSIA (compound specific stable isotope) methods in vadose zone and vapor phase contaminant studies to identify the source of the contamination and to assess the in-situ degradation of contaminants. See figure below for an example illustration of how we determine the impacts at a monitoring well from source X or from source Y, a very common dispute in environmental contamination incidents.
The many issues associated with disputes over responsibility for cleanup are reviewed in this multi-part blog, as we attempt to answer the questions: When, what, where, who and how chemicals were released. Case studies are presented, highlighting the approach and results of these forensic investigations.
Tools of the Forensic Investigation
The tools of forensic investigation include, but are not limited to, gas chromatography, mass spectrometry, flame ionization, thin layer chromatography, lead isotope analyses, library search site characterization, tracer additives, stable and radioactive isotope analyses, mathematical fate and transport models, and so on. These tools are presented with emphasis on how they might be applied at mixed or commingling plume sites.
The best tools to apply to a particular case depend on the questions posed, so clarity about the ultimate objective of the forensic work is important from the start. For example, a focus on product identification or source characteristics is usually quite different from age-dating the release(s). Crude oil and refined products are complex mixtures of hundreds to thousands of constituents that can have widely varying physico-chemical properties, and some forensic tools are better suited to certain constituents than others. In addition, it is very important to consider the phase of the chemical to be sampled, such as petroleum product, soil-sorbed constituents, dissolved phase constituents in groundwater, and vapor phase constituents.
For example, a forensic method that we use is called PIANO (Paraffins, Isoparaffins, Aromatics, Naphthenes, Olefins). The analytical method is high resolution GC/FID or full scan GC/MS. The distribution of the over PIANO gasoline-range constituents provides information on the source and age of the product, because it determines the amount of weathering. This method is applicable to gasoline, naphtha, and other light hydrocarbons. Other methods available for gasoline fingerprinting include: oxygenate analysis, organic lead and lead scavenger analysis, bulk and compound-specific stable isotope analysis. The figure below shows a typical PIANO histogram.
For diesel fuel fingerprinting we may use: PAH and alkyl-PAH analysis, n-alkane and acyclic isoprenoid analysis, biomarker and n-alkylcyclo-hexane analysis, total sulfur analysis, and so on.
Metropolitan is typically applying environmental forensic methods taking into consideration of the hydrogeological properties of aquifers, fate and transport properties of contaminants, and advanced chemical ‘fingerprinting’ to answer the posed questions and to assist clients define their relative responsibility in environmental cleanup at spill sites. Metropolitan uses a multiple-line of evidence approach and places a particular interest in cross-checks of results and interpretations with the goal to generate factual information to assist our clients in the fair settlement of the legal claim.
Estimation of the Fuel Release Time
At several of our projects Metropolitan is tasked with the determination of the time of the release of fuel oil. The correct determination of the time of the release insures that an equitable settlement of the resulting liability and damages occurs.
Estimates on fuel/oil release times are feasible in the presence of suitable data sets, including:
1. geochemical data
2. stable and radioactive isotope analyses
3. chemical, biological and physical data of soil and or groundwater, including analyses for trace elements
4. hydrogeologic system and groundwater level variations
5. nature and extent of hydrocarbon plume; concentration gradients within plume
6. microbial soil / water potential to degrade various hydrocarbon constituents
7. metal concentrations in the impacted soils and groundwater
8. contaminant sampling within and beyond the plume
Forensic Engineering Experience Case Studies
Metropolitan staff has developed and utilized scientific methods to assist clients in a variety of ways related to their claim issues. The following is a partial list of such projects:
· Provided expert witness services for plaintiff seeking remediation of contaminated groundwater that caused indoor air inhalation problems;
· Used CSIA to determine the source(s) of PCE and TCE at monitoring wells at a number of sites in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut;
· Testified that engineering and scientific evidence was improperly collected and analyzed and was inadequate to show the age of the release;
· Demonstrated that solvents in groundwater at client's property originated from off-site drycleaner and that client's site actually provided remediation for the off-site release of dry cleaning solvent;
· Expert witness for property owner impacted by industrial waste disposal from industrial manufacturer;
· Demonstrated that environmental analysis by a previous consultant for a manufacturing site was inadequate; as a result, the lender's concerns were alleviated and financing proceeded;
· Chemical "age-dating" and contaminant transport analyses of petroleum in groundwater at a gas station showed that contaminants originated from other parties;
· Age-dated petroleum release at a former gas station to show that the previous owner of the gas station caused groundwater contamination;
· Age-dated petroleum releases at an industrial facility to show that the on-site plume was the result of an off-site source;
· Prepared age-dating reports for over one-hundred residential fuel oil spills;
· Assisted insurance companies attorneys in defending subrogation claims; was able to demonstrate that the forensic data collected by the first party consultant were collected and analyzed using invalid methods;
· Demonstrated that structural damage to a residence was from a source other than the alleged high lake level
· Collected evidence (for the primary responsible party) that identified other responsible parties to share in the cost of a Superfund cleanup;
· Review of the site data at a bulk petroleum facility indicated that the site releases were not the result of regular oil transfer operations and that they were caused by the negligent actions of the insured’s agents; the case was settled in favor of the insurance company;
· Was able to demonstrate that the majority of the removal actions at petroleum release sites were neither reasonable nor necessary; as a result of our opinion, the insurance client settled the claim in favorable terms;
· At several drycleaner sites we were able to demonstrate that the age of the release was much earlier than the parties originally believed; as a result, the insurance client settled the claim at a fraction of the alleged liability.
Gasoline Fingerprinting Case Study – Applying the PIANO Analysis to Determine the Source of the Gasoline Product in Monitoring Wells
A typical situation we encounter in urban settings is contamination that may have been caused by multiple sources. Insurers and responsible parties want to know the percent contribution from each source or from a source so that they perform cost allocations. Forensic characterization of gasoline releases can be accomplished with PIANO analyses, an enhanced GC/FID or GC/MS technique which can identify and quantify hundreds of hydrocarbons. By quantifying diagnostic ratios of selected hydrocarbons obtained from the PIANO scan, investigators can obtain information on the magnitude of environmental weathering, the type of gasoline present and the refining methods used in its production and the gasoline’s compliance with environmental regulations. These parameters can be used to assess the nature of the gasoline release and when it occurred.
The objective of a typical investigation is to determine if LNAPL (a floating gasoline product) encountered inside groundwater monitoring wells or test pits downgradient from two or more gasoline and diesel service stations came from-phase gasolines found on the property of these service station. We typically must perform a detailed gasoline product analysis from each gasoline station and from the downgradient areas. It is well known that refiners that provide the gasoline and other product to the individual service stations use different blending compositions. Therefore, we can use this knowledge to determine the source of the gasoline as it is transported and degraded in the subsurface environment.
Weathering in the subsurface environment typically affects the product samples differently; therefore, some differences are always apparent. In a typical case, the gasolines samples analyses from each station revealed differences related to refinery blending. Formulated gasoline is generally enriched in isoparaffins and aromatics. One Station’s gasoline contained an abundance of particular isoparaffins, namely, 2,2,4-, 2,3,4-and 2,3,3-trimethylpentane, which indicate that the refiner blended alkylate into its gasolines.
Another refiner that provided gasoline to a second station did not use alkylate in production of its gasoline(s). The relative absence of these isoparaffins in the downgradient monitoring well samples indicated that it was consistent with the gasoline from the first station’s refiner. Thus, we were able to prove with a reasonable degree of scientific certainty that the contamination in the wells had originated from only one of the gasoline stations.
In another case, we were able to determine that the subject gasoline was a leaded gasoline and that only two of the subject four gasoline stations were using that type of product. Furthermore, by using analyses for methyl lead and tetraethyl lead, we were to prove that only one gas station was using methyl lead gasoline.
We are pleased to report the closure of the following claims.
Claim Closed #1: Release of One Thousand Gallons of Kerosene
We were asked to investigate the release of kerosene from an underground storage tank (UST) and associated piping. The insured claimed that the release was sudden and accidental, triggering coverage of our client’s policy. We investigated the leak site, collected forensic data and determined that the leak occurred over a period of many years and that it was not a sudden and accidental release. Our client settled the claim for a small fraction of the $150,000 claim price tag. Claim closed – at a record time.
Claim Closed #2: Historic Release of Gasoline at a Former Gasoline Station
We were asked to review a claim file for determining the age of the release(s) of gasoline and other petroleum hydrocarbons. Without collecting additional data, we determined that the gasoline releases were historic in nature (pre 1982). Since our client insurance policy covered the property for the years 1990-1995, an amicable settlement was reached with the insured without incurring additional claim investigation expenses. Claim closed – at a record time.
We are very pleased to report the resolution of the following issue(s).
Issue Resolved: Plume Commingling.
We were asked to review a claim file to determine if the releases from two diesel USTs were commingling. Other consultants had unsuccessfully attempted to resolve the issue and one of the insurance carriers was refusing to admit that the plumes were commingling. Based on constituents found in the diesel fuel(s), we were able to show that the two plumes were commingling; we were also able to determine the percent mixing of the plumes. As a result, our client requested from the other insurance company to contribute to the cost of site cleanup. The parties have reached an amicable settlement based on the conclusions of our work. Issue resolved.
Metropolitan Also Offers the Following Claim Management Services
Professional Errors and Omissions
Design Errors and Omissions: Code Compliance, Drawing/Plans Analysis, Quality Assurance, Defect Analysis, Design & Repair Scope, Conflict Resolution, Scheduling Analysis, Contract Analysis, Exhibit Preparation, Testimony, Expert Analysis
Construction Errors and Omissions. We perform the following basis services. Claims Analysis, Scope of Repair, Delay Claims, Estimating, School Construction, Timeline Analysis, Defect Claims, Negotiation of Claims, Report Generation, Exhibit Preparation, Testimony, Expert Analysis.
We provide civil engineering and construction consulting services including technical advice, dispute resolution assistance and expert testimony. Services include construction contract claim preparation and analysis utilizing Critical Path Method (CPM) schedule techniques, loss of productivity studies and liability assessments; Construction project performance evaluations (including Standard of Care assessments); Construction contracts analysis; Property and casualty loss investigations and reconstruction estimates; Personal injury investigations and opinions of liability; Pre-litigation support services including interrogatory and opposing expert deposition question preparation; Attendance at opposing expert deposition; Provision of expert testimony at deposition, mediation, arbitration and trial.
When involved during construction, our basic strategy in addressing claims is anticipation, avoidance, mitigation, and then preparation or defense of the claim. To that end, we perform detailed research and comprehensive analysis of disputed issues and the responsibilities of the owner and the contractor related to each issue.
Our goal is to help you resolve the claim at the lowest possible transaction cost. Since transaction costs are, on average, fifty to seventy five percent of the claim, Metropolitan believes that the emphasis should be placed in reducing the transaction costs by collecting high quality data early on to ensure unnecessary challenges by the insured and/or other insurance carrier, should the claim is subrogated.
We know that you want the facts; that you want them fast; that you want uncompromised quality of the deliverable; and at a rock bottom price.
forensic professionals are second to none and are dedicated to fast, efficient and effective response and creating a product of uncompromising quality and value.
forensic professionals are second to none and are dedicated to fast, efficient and effective response and creating a product of uncompromising quality and value.
Metropolitan is ready to assist you with a number of forensic engineering or age-dating determinations or evaluations to insure that the proper coverage trigger or period has been determined. We also have the scientific expertise to determine whether the releases were historic in nature, whether they were sudden or accidental, as well as to be able to differentiate plume contributions from various sources.
We are ready to assist you with E&O claims and/or construction defect claims. Metropolitan will also use proven forensic techniques in the determination of the cause, origin, and extent of foundation/soil movement, grating/drainage, structural failures, water intrusions, construction defects and other failures. Our job is to find out what happened and why, from the cause and origin through the extent of loss. Metropolitan will be able to point the way toward a speedy disposition of the claim.
Our job is to find out what happened and why, from the cause and origin through the extent of loss. Metropolitan will be able to point the way toward a speedy disposition of the claim.
Metropolitan Engineering, Consulting & Forensics (MECF)
Providing Competent, Expert and Objective Investigative Engineering and Consulting Services
P.O. Box 520
Tenafly, NJ 07670-0520
Tel.: (973) 897-8162
Fax: (973) 810-0440
Web pages: https://sites.google.com/site/metropolitanforensics/
Metropolitan appreciates your business.
Feel free to recommend our services to your friends and colleagues.
We know you need to process damage claims quickly and knowing the facts is now faster than ever – within 24 hours of site visit. Our Pegasos Forensic Investigation Services (PFIS) feature:
· Expert Forensic Investigators on-site.
· Defensible, Readable, Conclusive Reports.
· Fixed-Prices starting at $499 per chimney or roof inspection (volume discounts are also available). Flood loss assessments start at $999.0. HVAC equipment only inspections start at $299 for local (within one hour one-way drive) assignments.
· 10-State Coverage Area.
· All of our employees and associates are subjected to full FBI background investigations and security clearance.