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Innovative Environmental Site Investigation Tools

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Published on Jul 18, 2017

Assessing subsurface soil and groundwater, more quickly and more thoroughly, can lead to more cost-effective remediation. Learn how some of the newer approaches can help you with your soil and groundwater investigations.

The traditional format of an investigation in our industry was we would drill a hole, look at the soil, look at the water, screen it, collect some samples, send them off to a lab, and maybe a week or two later get some data back. We would look at it and decide what we were going to do next. Whether that be drill more holes, collect more samples, go here or there. One of the things that has been an innovation in our industry is being able to collect data real-time. There are three different techniques that we are using on a re gular basis now, where the data is relatively real time in the field so we can make decisions on what to do next.

One is called HPT, one is called MIP, and one is called LIF

HPT is called Hydraulic Profiling Tool. That allows us to get physical properties of the subsurface as we are drilling the borehole. They can gauge whether that is a permeable formation like sand or gravel, or whether it is an impermeable formation like silt or clay. That gives us an idea of where the chemicals might be going.

Before, we maybe got two or three measurements as we went down a fifty-foot borehole. Now, we've got hundreds or thousands of measurements. The depth of data we get from a tool like that is just incredible. Another tool that tests chemistry is the MIP, or membrane interface probe. There is a tube that goes down with the head of the boring, and a carrier gas gets circulated through that tube. As that carrier gas intersects some place that has chemicals, the chemicals migrate into that gas, and then comes up to the surface to get analyzed right there.

The third one mentioned is LIF, Laser Induced Fluorescents, a similar tool to detect chemistry. This shoots a laser beam out from the tool that leads the boring, and as that light goes out, hydrocarbons, such as gasoline or diesel fuel, etc., light up because of the laser. These each have a different wavelength of light, and by analyzing the wavelength, we can tell if there are chemicals there and what kind of chemicals.

Passive soil gas is a neat technique that has been around for a little while. With passive soil gas we can figure out where the hot spot is. By using passive soil gas we can put these little probes right at the ground surface, leave them in for a couple weeks, come back and we get this nice map of the distribution of say if its trichloroethylene, or benzene in the soil gas and know exactly where the hot spot is. And it’s a lot cheaper than drilling a lot of holes.

One the things we did when we were investigating the groundwater contamination issue in Salina was to use iPads in the field for taking notes. The geologists have forms that are digitized, so they could put in all the information related to soil and groundwater, groundwater chemistry. We were able to evaluate in real time where we needed to drill next.

With the information that we get from these high-resolution site characterization tools, we not only are able to advance our investigations quicker and more cost effectively, but we are also able to get better information to better develop the solutions.

When we are doing litigation, which we do frequently, it’s not my interpretation, I don’t make up data, I get data and the data tell the story. So whenever I testify, I don’t say this is what I think, I say this is what the data indicate. Because if you have data say from groundwater and data from chemistry, data from isotopes, data from soil gas, and they all say the same thing, the data tell the story.

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