How to Start A Forensics Project

Going Beyond the Standard EPA Methods

The typical environmental investigation is concerned with the nature and extent of contamination. The standard EPA Methods, used by your normal environmental lab, are designed to address these questions.

But what do you do when you have a problem that the prescriptive regulatory framework, followed by typical environmental professionals, cannot solve? Say your client is implicated in a contamination case with several parties. Litigation is possible and you client needs answers that are secondary to the regulatory program. He needs to address the following legal issues:

  • what are the contaminants and their sources (product ID)
  • where did it happen (extent of the damage)
  • when did it happen (who was the insurer at the time of release)
  • what did each party contribute (what is a equitable cost allocation)
  • who is responsible (who will pay)

The Role of Environmental Forensics

Environmental forensics uses numerous lines of inquiry and analysis in order to find results which will lead to a coherent understanding of the nature and source of the contamination. Our consultants can then take those results and form an opinion that is scientifically defensible and explainable to the involved parties and non-experts (such as judges and juries.)

Four primary investigative tools can be used when differentiating between spills having more than one source:

  • research the history of the area to add or eliminate potential responsible parties
  • model contaminant fate and transport (groundwater) to estimate time of release and source identification and contribution
  • identify the specific chemical indicator compounds which are present in one source but absent in another*
  • perform component ratio analysis on the contamination and the various potential sources*

*The more compounds or component ratios that can be found, the more compelling the case for the source of the contamination. The key contribution of transport modeling is the use of mathematics to simulate a physical problem and examine "what if" questions.

Pace Analytical Energy Services uses these tools to finds as many instances as possible to support our consultants' conclusions. In many cases, our investigation can establish a reasonable scientific certainty of the sources of contamination and/or the time of release. Please see the list of the chemical analyses performed at Pace Analytical Energy Services. A detailed account of the methodologies we use can be found in our Forensics Primer.

  • Vindicate or implicate? Remember, environmental forensics may implicate parties as well as vindicate them; a forensic investigation may not prove that your client is innocent. On the contrary, we may find that he is responsible. It is also important note that it may not be possible to assign responsibility, even using the best tools available. There is no guarantee that you will find the desired results.
  • Before you start, define the scope. Costs can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars per sample. We recommend that some time be spent defining the scope of the investigation and evaluating if the site and nature of the spill offer a reasonable opportunity for a successful investigation.
  • Use a tiered approach. It is often difficult to know what to expect when sampling and analyzing a spill. The historical research may miss important events at the site and result in misleading lines of investigation. The testing may show unexpected results that make more testing necessary in order to answer the initial goals. Pace Analytical Energy Services recommends a cost-benefit analysis using a tiered approach. Preliminary (and less costly) testing may indicate whether more expensive testing has a reasonable chance of success and avoids the generation of useless and costly data.
Interested in Environmental Services?

We'd love to tell you more!

Contact Us Today