Independent Consultants in Environmental and Forensic Chemistry

Volume 1, Issue 1, Spring 1997

President's Corner - James S. Smith, Ph.D., CPC, President/Chemist

How Old is This Petroleum Product Release?

Presented by Dr. James Smith at the American Academy of Forensic Science Meeting, February, 1997.

This question has been posed by many attorneys to expert consultants and witnesses. Numerous individuals and laboratories claim to be able to age-date or determine how old petroleum releases are although very little exists in the literature to substantiate any of these claims. Although the claims sound scientific, the question is "Are they scientifically defensible?"

Recently, Trillium had the opportunity to be involved in an investigation of a truck maintenance facility. The facility was built in 1964 and operated until 1984. During this time, used motor oil, gear oil, transmission fluids, and mineral spirits were released to a drain system that lead to a dry well. Two groundwater monitoring wells at the site were sampled in 1995. A free product phase (NAPL - non-aqueous phase liquid) was obtained and characterized by Trillium. It contained mineral spirits, diesel fuel, lubricating oil, and metals.

The sample was submitted to eight laboratories and experts. The laboratories were not told anything about the sample or its origin. The experts were to identify the petroleum products present in the sample and age-date the environmental release. The results were very interesting.

TO BE CONTINUED ... in the next issue. If you can't wait until then, contact Jim Smith at (610) 383-7233.


Research Corner

Can PCE Penetrate Concrete?

In order to understand the fate of contaminants in the environment,Trillium, Inc., occasionally funds and conducts its own in-house research. The Research Corner is designed to report on the findings of these research programs as well as significant research in the open literature.

The subject of a current study is the ability of perchloroethylene (PCE), a commonly used degreasing solvent, to penetrate concrete. We have found that PCE, as a liquid or as a vapor, will penetrate four inches of cured concrete in about four (4) hours. This chlorinated solvent can permeate concrete in close proximity to a source of PCE, such as a vapor degreaser, to contaminate the soil below and can remain inside the concrete for years. Consequently, concrete may become a source of PCE long after the original source has been removed. If contaminated concrete is remediated and transported to a construction debris landfill, a significant source of contamination may be introduced at the landfill.



The following were presented in 1996 by Dr. James Smith, President/Chemist:

"Soil Sample Preservation for Gasoline Range Organic Compounds (GRO)" presented to the State of Alaska, Department of Environmental Conservation

"Environmental Validation" presented at the 3rd Annual Validation Conference, sponsored by the International Validation Forum.

"How Old is This Petroleum Release?" presented at the Florida Environmental Chemistry Conference.

"Environmental Chemistry" presented at the 5th Annual Environmental Sciences: A Primer for the Technically Challenged, sponsored by the American Bar Association.

Trillium would be pleased to present any of these programs at your place of business or law firm. All presentations can be adapted to a full-day or half-day format. We include a slide presentation, and a handout booklet that all participants can keep. Please call Eva Thomas, Information Specialist, at (610) 873-3140 for more details.

Trillium? What is a Trillium?
The Naming of the Company

A trillium is a wildflower. Several species of trillium exist and grow in shaded, moist, wooded areas from Georgia to Canada and from Maine to Arkansas. It is the provincial flower of Ontario, Canada. Trilliums have three leaves and three sepals. The flowers have three petals that can be white, pink, yellow, greenish, or various shades of red, depending on the species, and produce a single bright red berry. Native Americans used the root for medicinal purposes. Trilliums bloom in early spring just as the leaves emerge in their forest canopy. Difficult to grow from seed, the plant takes 6 to 8 years to mature and produce a flower.

Trillium, Inc., is a unique company, and we wanted a unique name for a different type of environmental consulting firm. Therefore, a name consisting of three letters, "environment" in its title, or the name of the founder would not do. The name "Trillium" was chosen because it typifies the beauty of nature and a time and place in which the environment is unaffected by human intervention.


Who are we? What do we do?

Founded in 1987 by Dr. James S. Smith, Trillium, Inc., is a small independent consulting firm specializing in environmental and forensic chemistry. The firm was designed to fill a void in providing objective third-party review and consultation in the field of chemistry.

Based in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, offices are also located in Vermont, New Jersey, Maryland, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Louisiana. Trillium professional personnel have practical experience in developing sampling and analysis plans, preparing field and laboratory quality assurance plans, field sampling, analyzing samples, managing laboratories, evaluating data, preparing expert reports, teaching at the university level, preparing affidavits, and testifying in court.

Our clients have included individuals, small companies, international firms, and attorneys as well as local, state, and federal governments. We have participated in numerous environmental investigations by planning, executing, and/or monitoring the analytical programs. Trillium has provided consultant and expert witness services in both civil and criminal investigations and litigations including nationally recognized cases such as Stringfellow in California and Wells G and H in Woburn, Massachusetts. Our strength is in our ability to evaluate and interpret chemical data based on sound and defensible scientific principles and to integrate these evaluations with data from other technical disciplines.


Video Review

"Junk Science: What You Know That May Not Be So"
ABC News Special - Air Date 1/9/97
Reported by John Stossel

Polls have shown that we trust scientists more than any other profession because of the numerous and unbelievable advances in the scientific fields over the past few decades. We have sent men to the moon and extended the average life expectancy. But money, greed, power, and fame can sway even the most reputable scientist. This special showed how the general public can be easily misled by the members of the media, by "experts," and by the federal government who advance claims that cannot be substantiated by scientific evidence.

Stossel criticizes such government programs as reduction of salt in the diet as an effective measure for preventing heart disease and the dioxin cleanup at Times Beach, Missouri. While reducing the dietary intake of salt will decrease blood pressure and high blood pressure can lead to heart disease, no evidence exists to suggest that salt reduction will prevent heart disease. At Times Beach, the EPA has spent (and is still spending) millions of dollars evacuating people, destroying homes, and burning debris and soil to protect us from dioxin. Yet, in Seveso, Italy, containing 10,000 times more dioxin, the contaminated soil was covered with plastic and a foot of soil was placed on top to create a park currently enjoyed by the citizens. No adverse health effects have been noted in over 20 years.

Stossel also attacks the attorneys claiming adverse health effects from silicone breast implants when no link has been established between silicone and human health. Medical problems of implant patients occur no more frequently than those of patients without implants.

"Experts" are criticized for relying on questionable abilities and unreliable practices to help prosecutors win criminal cases. The media is also chastised for its prediction of a dire future for children of "crack" cocaine mothers. None of these examples can be supported by the available evidence. In fact, good evidence exists to strongly dispute these opinions and experts. Yet, millions of dollars are expended and some people are wrongfully imprisoned based on seemingly scientific, but unsubstantiated, claims.

This special emphasizes that caution, skepticism, and a demand for scientific proof should always be practiced. Stossel concludes, "consensus of science may not always be right, but it is much less likely to be Junk!"

Copies of this video cassette are available by calling ABC at (800) 913-3434.


Book ReviewA Civil Action

by Jonathan Harr
Published by Random House

When Mrs. Anderson's son was diagnosed with leukemia, she was unaware that she would soon be involved in the most noted toxic tort litigation in the United States. Her son was but a part of an outbreak of childhood leukemia cases in the town of Woburn, Massachusetts, in the early 1970s. As the individual cases were slowly pieced together to form a pattern, the residents of Woburn began to seek the source of the disease. Subsequent discovery of industrial solvents in the city drinking water from Wells G and H presented itself as a likely source. But from where did the solvents come and how do you prove it?

A Civil Action is a nonfiction chronicle of attorney Jan R. Schlichtmann's nine-year effort to develop a case of causal relationship between industrial practices, environmental contamination, and public health effects. It affords an intimate behind-the-scenes look at the war waged between a small group of citizens and two industrial giants represented by a large Boston law firm. Battles fought from open court to the judge's chambers and from restaurants to the jury room provide an insight into the clash of politics, science, and pseudoscience for supremacy in the American legal system.

Must reading for those interested in litigation of environmental contamination.





Are you getting the most from your analytical data?

Analyses by many "approved" analytical methods provide information that is often ignored. Disregarding this information can lead to inaccurate conclusions. For example, during a recent investigation of a manufacturing site, analyses of soil samples by inductively coupled plasma emission spectroscopy (ICP) revealed an arsenic "hot spot." Previous atomic absorption (AA) spectroscopy analyses did not show this area to be contaminated. Further review of the ICP data revealed the presence of percent levels of lanthanum that gave a false positive interference for arsenic.

A far more common oversight is the tentatively identified compounds (TICs) in analyses by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS). TICs are chemicals "identified" by a computer program matching the mass spectrum of a compound in the sample with a spectrum in the computer library. TICs are not usually considered important since they are not compounds on a regulatory "hit" list. However, the correct identification of other compounds in a sample can lead a forensic chemist to the source of contamination or the identity of an unlisted chemical. In a recent project, a worker developed an allergic skin reaction when at a site although target compounds from the GC/MS analyses did not reveal a cause for the reaction. Detailed interpretation of the TIC mass spectral data showed the presence of many compounds, including skin irritants, which could have caused the allergic reaction.

The most obvious information available from an analysis can be overlooked at times. A knowledgeable and experienced chemist can interpret large "humps" in a chromatogram and attribute them to various chemical formulations. Good interpretive abilities can discriminate between fresh or weathered petroleum products (e.g., gasoline, mineral spirits, diesel, motor oil, etc.) and various polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) mixtures. Neither laboratories nor data validators tend to have the ability, time, or inclination to provide this type of information accurately; this area of expertise is more appropriately left to the environmental and forensic chemistry consultant.