Keeping It Real: My Life As An Entrepreneur

The Fine Print: Environmental Lab Bids

Right now, you are probably ignoring this paragraph, or you’ve decided it’s far too much work to either zoom in to 400% or get your reading glasses out, print out a copy, and hold it 3 feet away from your face in order to see what I’ve written here. And I imagine you probably treat the small print of terms and conditions or narratives from laboratory bids the same way. Seriously, how many people actually read ALL of the text of anything anymore – doctor’s privacy and payment notices, auto loan paperwork, etc. In most industries, folks just expect you to skim. Mortgages are a great example. If you were actually going to read every single page of the documents at closing, certainly more than an hour would be blocked out of your day. But really, folks, you should go ahead and invest in that pair of $10 CVS ugly-as-sin spectacles; dare to look like your high school librarian (hey, my mother was my high school librarian, so I’m allowed); and analyze carefully.

Ok, that’s better. Can you see now? It’s important to know what you are getting into. Make sure you are crystal clear on what environmental labs do and do not provide on those bids; otherwise, you might not be comparing apples to apples when you receive quotes. Here are a few things, in my experience, to look out for that affect bottom line pricing:

  • For long-term, fixed-priced contracts, does the laboratory provide fixed pricing for the duration of the potential contract, or can you expect a percentage bump, of say 1.5%, after the first couple of years?

  • Does the lab charge for trip blank analysis and other required QA/QC analyses like matrix spikes and matrix spike duplicates?

  • Is shipment of empty sample bottles included? How about shipment of samples back to the lab? Courier service?

  • What is the lab’s multiple dilution policy?

  • Based on a contract’s turnaround time (TAT), is there any additional cost if the TAT is considered expedited?

  • Does the laboratory have an energy surcharge or an environmental management fee?

  • Is there a minimum transaction charge for smaller shipments?

  • What are payment terms and consequences for late payment?

Environmental consultants: what other factors have you come across that affect the bottom line pricing of your bids? Laboratories: What other factors should consultants be aware of when evaluating the total prices of a received bid?

Written by: Karen Baer

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Four Facts Field Technicians Should Know About Hydrogen Sampling

Dissolved hydrogen is the dreaded analysis in every field tech’s Sampling & Analysis Plan.  Yes, there’s more equipment to lug around, the risk of impaling yourself with a 1-inch long needle, and those pressed wood ring stands that swell and warp at just the threat of a summer thunderstorm.  But it’s important!  It is!  And if I were an expert on assessing the progress and/or potential of bioremediation as well as the development of necessary support for regulatory acceptance of remediation work in order to characterize dominant reduction processes for contaminant degradation through the use of a simple little parameter like hydrogen1, I’d tell you why!  But I’m not, so I won’t.

Instead, I’ll tell you four important facts that everyone should know about hydrogen sampling:

  1. Hydrogen sampling takes a long time.  I repeat (through a bull horn), IT TAKES A LONG TIME!  The additional time should be considered even before field work planning – - I’m talking proposal stage.  According to Microseeps, it takes 15-20 minutes to equilibriate the introduced air bubble with the groundwater using a bubble of 20 ccs and a groundwater flow rate of 250 to 300 ccs per minute.  In addition to this time, there is additional set up and break down of the hydrogen gas stripping cell. As a result, proposal pricing needs to reflect an additional 25 to 30 minutes of labor per person per well. If you do not consider this extra time, there’s really no other way for me to state this:  You’re screwed.
  2. Do not perform hydrogen sampling on newly installed wells; it’s a complete waste of time.  Dissolved hydrogen results will not be representative until approximately 3 months following monitoring well installation; however, other parameters may be sampled for following monitoring well development. 
  3. Well construction materials matter.  A study entitled Practical Considerations for Measuring Hydrogen Concentrations in Groundwater found that iron and steel well casings produce hydrogen, which masks hydrogen concentrations in groundwater, and that PVC-cased wells are necessary for obtaining representative hydrogen concentrations.
  4. Be particular about your pump.  Electrically-driven submersible pumps can introduce hydrogen due to electrochemical interactions with the sampled water.  In fact, in this study, concentrations of dissolved hydrogen were approximately two orders of magnitude higher when sampling was performed with an electrically driven submersible pump versus a bladder or peristaltic pump.

One last thing – dissolved hydrogen is not an analysis commonly performed within environmental laboratories.  Often, even nation-wide companies will subcontract to labs like Microseeps or VaporTech Services.  If you encounter issues with any of the hydrogen equipment, you aren’t clear on the methodology, or you have been swearing for at least 10 minutes and have the urge to run over the hydrogen gas stripping cell with your truck, I would encourage you to contact the subcontracted lab directly for assistance.


Written by: Karen Baer

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Chemical of the Week: Toluene

Toluene is another contaminant that is often tested for at environmental remediation sites. Toluene occurs in low levels in crude oil. Its atomic structure is very similar to that of benzene – a ring of six carbon atoms, but one of the six hydrogen atoms has been replaced by a group of one carbon and three hydrogen atoms.

Toluene is a common solvent. It can dissolve paint, rubber, printing ink, adhesives, and leather tanners. Industrial uses include using toluene to produce benzoic acid and benzaldehyde. Toluene is also used as an octane booster in gasoline for vehicles, hence why is tends to show up at UST sites!

Fun Fact: Toluene has been used to remove cocaine from coca leaves during the production of syrup for coca-cola beverages!

Toluene is not as toxic as benzene; it has very little carcinogenic potential. However, inhaling toluene can cause drunken-type activities, memory loss, headaches, and nausea. Symptoms usually stop when exposure is stopped.

Written by: Chris Hollinger

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Can You Dig It: Horizontal Wells

They want us to do what?

Granted, I was new to the field at the time and didn’t know that asking a contractor to dig a huge trench across a contaminated area was a big deal. The idea, of course, was to oxygenate the water.  Even though I was a rookie, I could still see that there might be some problems related to digging a trench across the parking lot of an active gas station. I could just imagine a sleepy truck operator driving into it late at night. Fortunately, the client decided not to move forward, and instead we looked at doing oxygen injections into the vertical wells that existed on site.

(An object I don’t want in my trench)

It’s a shame. A trench would have been more efficient than injecting oxygen in vertical wells. It probably would have increased the amount of groundwater exposed to oxygen by an order of magnitude or more. It just wasn’t feasible at this site.

Active remediation through vertical wells depends on mass transports of air and/or chemicals through the interface offered by the well screens. The problem: the interface is not that big! Most monitoring wells have 5 or 10 feet of screen. Also, a heck of a lot of wells would be necessary in order to effectively remediate the site.

So, to recap, we have a large plume and an active facility that can’t be disturbed. What to do? Drilling horizontal wells is one option to consider.

Advantages of horizontal wells in comparison to trenching:

  • Very little soil to containerize and dispose of.
  • Greater vertical reach.
  • Can be installed beneath surface structures.

  (Trenching at a remediation site in TN)

Advantages of horizontal remediation wells in comparison to vertical wells:

  • Horizontal wells have more screen in contact with the contaminant plume. This can result in a greater zone of influence.
  • Natural flow patterns tend to create plumes that are longer and/or wider than they are thick. Horizontal wells can be oriented to take advantage of plume geometry.
  • A single horizontal well can have the remediation impact of 10 to30 vertical wells.
  • Horizontal wells can be installed beneath surface structures.

(Comparison image of vertical versus horizontal wells)

Disadvantages of horizontal wells:

  • The removal of cuttings is difficult and must be done with great care to avoid borehole collapse.
  • Horizontal well casings must have greater tensile strength than vertical wells. Horizontal casings are subject to higher stress during installation due to the power of horizontal drill rigs.
  • Installing a traditional sand pack is difficult.  Some engineers have tried pre-packed screens but have found that the weight and stiffness of the screens makes installation difficult.
  • In areas where groundwater levels fluctuate, horizontal wells may be dry at times during the year.

The cost per foot for a horizontal well can be high – around $90 a foot. However, if one horizontal well replaces anywhere from 9 to 30 vertical wells, the cost savings may be considerable.

Have you tried a horizontal well as a remediation strategy? What were your results?

Written By: Chris Hollinger

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Groundwater Sampling Bubble Trouble: Does Headspace Matter?

Several years ago, I performed quarterly groundwater sampling at a former landfill site in central Florida.  Once I finished purging each monitoring well, I’d fill up three volatile bottles, inverting each one and lightly tapping the glass to ensure no air bubbles were present.  There were several monitoring wells that, for whatever reason, always gave me problems.  No matter how hard I tried, there were always bubbles in the bottles, and I’d have to start the whole process over again: slide the tubing back down into the well, turn on the pump, turn off the pump, pull up the tubing, reverse the pump, fill the bottles, replace the caps, invert the bottles, tap, curse, curse some more, and repeat.

Sound familiar?  Have you ever asked yourself, does it really matter if there are air bubbles in these 40 mL VOA bottles?

An article about this topic was published in the Winter edition of the Groundwater Monitoring & Remediation magazine, a publication of the National Groundwater Association.  The study, entitled  “The Effect of Air Bubbles and Headspace on the Aqueous Concentrations of Volatile Organic Compounds in Sampling Vials,” determined that headspace in the bottles had to be at least 10% of the volume of the vial to affect the total VOC concentrations of the sample.

Although the results of this study may be true, there are still regulations that stipulate that laboratories are required to document the presence of any gaseous void space, or “air bubbles,” and invalidate those samples.

So, what should you do?

Make sure to talk about your sampling methodology with both your laboratory project manager and your state/federal regulator, as applicable, and determine exactly what process you should follow.  You may find out that you’ve just saved yourself a bunch of time and never have to worry about those pea-sized or even marble-sized bubbles again.  On the other hand, you may need to consider deep breathing techniques and just make sure that no one is within ear shot of you at those pesky monitoring wells.

Good luck!!

Written by: Karen Baer

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Biological Hazards and Environmental Field Work: Ticks

During the summer of 2008, I was working in Shenandoah National Park with rare and endangered plants. One day, I was on my hands and knees taking a close look at some rare plant species. As I stood up to stretch, my gaze fell on my hand, where something didn’t seem quite right — it seemed like one of my freckles was moving! I immediately knew it was a seed tick, but then as I looked, I saw another one, and another one, and still more! As I continued to widen my gaze, I finally saw that both my hands were a mass of moving freckles.

Not good. Not good at all.

Ticks are a grim reality in the field, and, in my opinion, the most dangerous of the biological hazards. Hard to spot, painless bites, and disease carriers, they can easily evade detection. That summer, one crew member fell ill with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever after an encounter with a Lone Star Tick and was hospitalized.

It is absolutely necessary that field technicians be able to identify ticks. They should know the species, the associated diseases, how to spot them, and how to remove if bitten.

Here are some common ticks you are likely to encounter in the eastern US.

American Dog Tick

These are the largest of the eastern woodland tick species found in the US (about 1/8”).  They are reddish brown with white or yellow markings. These are known to transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, tularemia, and possibly ehrlichiosis.

Lone Star Tick (known as seed ticks when small)

These are easily distinguished by a white star on the center of their back. They are aggressive ticks and are known to move large distances in pursuit of a host. They inhabit dense brush and woodland and are known to transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, tularemia, and ehrlichiosis.

Deer Tick (also known as the Black Legged Tick and Bear Tick)

The Deer tick is dark brown and red. It inhabits woodlands, and exposure is usually greatest along trails. They are small and can be difficult to spot. They are known to transmit Lyme disease, which is recognizable by a bull’s eye rash around the bite area. They also transmit ehrlichiosis.

If a tick gets on you, it will generally crawl up your body until it gets to a barrier. The barrier could be your belt, or if the tick makes it to your upper body, your hairline. These two places are the most common areas for ticks to embed themselves and should be the focal points of your tick check.

Tick Bite Prevention
It helps if you are able to recognize thick brush as tick habitat and be aware of the months in which they are most active (generally spring and summer), but in all reality, if you spend a lot of time in the field, you are going to get bit.

You can use specific kinds of repellants. Ones with DEET (clothes or skin) or Permethrin (CLOTHES ONLY) should help. Also, don’t forget to check yourself every day. It takes a tick several hours to become fully embedded. Catch them early!

Removing a Tick – What NOT To Do:

  • Paint the tick in nail polish
  • Cover the tick in petroleum jelly
  • Try to burn the tick off
  • Squeeze, crush, or puncture the tick

Doing any of these can cause a tick to produce more pathogen-containing secretions into the bite site, or in the case of burning, hurt you.

Removing a Tick – What To Do:

  1. Use fine-point tweezers to grab the tick as close to the skin as possible.
  2. Pull up GENTLY with steady pressure until your skin tents. Do not twist or jerk, as this can cause the tick’s mouthparts to snap off and remain in your skin. This can cause infection.
  3. Keep the pressure on; the tick will slowly back itself/be pulled out.
  4. Once it’s out, use rubbing alcohol to clean the area.

If you develop a fever or rash within the next several weeks, go to a doctor and make sure to tell him/her about your recent tick bite and what species the tick was. You may want to consider saving the tick for ID purposes after removal.

Written By: Chris Hollinger

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A Day Without a “Grunt”: Rethinking Value and Success

Over the last several weeks, I’ve been thinking about how our culture determines value and success, and how, based on those factors, I’ve seen people treated and/or misunderstood.  I’ve asked myself, how have we gotten to this place where value is determined by money, by  “formal” education, by making it to the top of a field at any cost?  Why do we determine success by the number of letters behind a name?  How have we gotten to the point that use of ignorant and dangerous terminology – terminology that reduces and demeans individuals – is still acceptable in many circles? Perhaps a bit heavy for this blog?  Well, one can only talk about already been chewed gum and sucking water out of a hole for so long.

Allow me to share a few real-life examples of what I mean.  These are actual excerpts from my life, encounters that left my blood boiling or left me so flabbergasted that I fell from my chair (ok, not really, but in case you hadn’t noticed, this is the rising action part of the blog post).

“The Illegals”
While skimming through status updates on Facebook, I came across a friend’s post on US voting requirements. Regardless that my friend’s status had nothing to with immigration matters/undocumented immigrants, one woman commented:

“I don’t want the illegals speaking for me.”  Then she made some mention of Jesus and treating each other civilly/respectfully.

“The Grunts”
During a conference call, a project manager from another firm realized we would need to consult with members of his field crew in order to answer a question concerning some data.  He stated, “I’ll check with the grunts and get back to you.”

“Second Best”
Before lab, I asked my professor why he decided to teach at community college.

“He’s working here until he gets a better job,” another student muttered.

I heard her comment, but I sure hoped Dr. B hadn’t.  I guess she considered his job second best, and as a result, probably her education, too.

A Day Without…
Illegals, Grunts, Second Best…

Drillers, imagine your job without your helpers.  Project managers, imagine your life without environmental technicians.  Vice Presidents at environmental consulting firms, what would you do without your executive assistant?  School teachers and principals, your janitors?  Doctors, your nurses?  Nurses, your aides?  What would the US be like without immigrants, who (in my experience) are some of the hardest working people around?  When community colleges provide an affordable solution to increasing higher education costs in a less than stellar job market, why do people turn up their nose or consider it second best?  What would life be like for students who don’t want to go into debt at 4-year schools, but want a higher education, if community colleges ceased to exist?

We are all part of the puzzle that is life.  We can work as hard as we want, but if we devalue the other pieces, we will forever miss the complete picture.


Written By: Karen Baer

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Groundwater Sampling in a Snap

A few weeks ago, I posted about the Joys of Low Flow Groundwater Sampling (or not). Instead, I reviewed an alternative to this procedure — the Hydrasleeve. I also came across another option for those of you out there that get as much enjoyment from low flow sampling as you do paper cuts, thistles, and flaming dog poo: The Snap Sampler.

How does it work?
Once the Snap Sampler is submerged under the water, the environmental field technician can trigger the device to seal — it is sealed with no headspace vapor. The real beauty of this method is that the sample never comes into contact with air from the well or the outside environment until it’s opened for analysis preparation at the laboratory. That in itself is pretty cool when you compare it to other methods like HydraSleeves, Passive Diffusion Bags, bailers, and low flow sampling. Snap Sampler bottles come in various sizes, including 40 mL, 125 mL, and 350 mL. All bottles have capabilities to seal in situ but can be opened and transferred as necessary. Important to keep in mind, however, is that the larger 350 mL bottle can only be used in 4-inch wells, and the smaller bottles will not fit down smaller diameter wells — 2 inches in diameter is the limit.

Why snatch them up?
1. You can sample for any parameter, not just volatiles like some similar technologies.
2. No purge water to deal with — that in itself makes me want to sing LMFAO’s Party Rock Anthem.
3. The sample may be more representative, because heat, wind, rain, surface contamination, and off-gassing are avoided.
4. No pump, no heavy equipment.
5. Potential cost-savings/time-savings.

Why keep that old pump around?
1. Regulatory acceptance appears to be case by case, and that, to put it simply, annoys me.
2. If I have to collect 2 liters worth of sample using a 125 mL bottle, it really doesn’t matter if I can analyze the sample for any method, because I would probably snap myself.
3. This technology cannot be used on those pesky 1-inchers or the multi-chambered wells.
4. Cost, when combined with limited regulatory acceptance, makes me a little wary to stock up. The 2012 pricing sheet lists the snap samplers at $165 each. This price does not include the other components, such as triggers, well docks, and bottles.  Basically, regulators need to hop on board ACROSS THE BOARD.  And then, eventually, low flow sampling will become as archaic as using a bailer.
Want to learn more? View this 3-minute video, or view ProHydro, Inc.’s, website for additional details and case studies.

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An Alternative to Low Flow Groundwater Sampling: HydraSleeves

Groundwater sampling can get a bit routine (and by routine, I mean mind-numbing).  I remember many days sitting on my overturned 5-gallon plastic bucket, taking pH after pH reading, trying not to shrivel up like an earthworm on concrete in the blistering heat.

Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy being out in the great outdoors, but often, groundwater sampling isn’t as Sierra-Club-exciting as the Average Joe might think. Sometimes groundwater sampling gets you as far into the outdoors as a gas station’s asphalt parking lot or perhaps a median of a highway. I mean, seriously, just how close are you to nature if you are sampling in a multi-million dollar neighborhood, sitting helplessly on the edge of Peter Porsche’s manicured lawn watching folks drink beer while swimming in their backyard pool? There you sit on your make-shift Lazy Bucket wondering if Peter ever gets out of his bathrobe (or leaves the house for that matter) while you suck water out of a hole in the ground.

And oh…the fashion!  Standing in a median wondering if you will get struck by a truck, bus, or the random couch or mattress that flies from the bed of a pickup almost makes you not care that you look like one of the Village People in your fluorescent orange vest.  Almost. 

About the only thought that probably enters your head besides the fact that you really want to be in a pool with a beer or wearing something not made from mesh, is whether there might be a better way to sample groundwater.  So is there?

Let’s take a look at one alternative to low flow sampling – The HydraSleeve.

How do HydraSleeves work?

Using HydraSleeves involves a simple, three-step operation. The disposable HydraSleeve captures a “core” of water from any discrete interval in the screened portion of a monitoring well with no change in water level and minimal disturbance to the water column. The HydraSleeve is sealed except during sample collection, and then it re-seals itself to ensure that a formation quality sample is recovered.

Benefits of the HydraSleeve:

  • You can sample for all compounds (not just VOCs)
  • You can sample a well in less than 15 minutes
  • You can cut costs by 50% to 80%
  • You can reduce purge water to a big fat goose egg

Additional benefits of the HydraSleeve can be found here:

Downside of the HydraSleeve:

Although HydraSleeves have been used in all 50 states, it seems that regulators haven’t quite jumped on the HydraSleeve Choo-Choo Train. Only five states approve their use, and 16 others accept their use on a case-by-case basis.

There is an overview video for the HydraSleeve available if you are interested…and don’t mind music that should only be heard in cheesy First Aid/CPR refresher videos or an elevator.

Do you have experience sampling with a HydraSleeve?  Do you think it’s a good alternative to low flow groundwater sampling?  Tell us about your experience!

Written by: Karen Baer

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The Joys of Stormwater Sampling and Short Hold Times

There’s nothing quite like working on a stormwater sampling project. It’s sort of like being a doctor on call minus the handsome pay, life threatening circumstances, fancy white coat, pager, extra letters behind your name, respect…

You have to stalk the weather and be ready to go at a moment’s notice. Yes, you may be in the middle of carving the Thanksgiving turkey when it starts to rain. Maybe you are about to say, “I do.” Perhaps it’s right as you are about to hear those three words you’ve been waiting for for 9 long months, “It’s a…..” when you are forced to run for the outfalls and deal with biological hazards like crossing (darting, arms flailing) through pasture where bulls graze. One can only hope for a very understanding partner.

Then there’s the whole issue of short hold times for specific samples. If samples don’t get to the lab in time and are subsequently out of hold, you are up a creek without a paddle (I know, lame joke). You might be in Where The Heck Am I, Nebraska, and have to drive over an hour to find a FedEx so your samples with 48-hour hold times arrive to the laboratory by the following morning. You might have to sample for chloroform, which means “Drive by Drop Off” when you are approaching the 6-hour mark. You may not even be able to work on Saturdays and Sundays due to hold time constraints and where your field is in relation to the laboratory, which means you might actually have to find something to do in Where The Heck Am I, Nebraska, or watch Dog the Bounty Hunter marathons on A&E from your motel room.

Yes, hold times can make a job pretty frustrating, but being prepared and understanding the restrictions can help — or at least take away the element of surprise. There are a bunch of labs out there that try to make this information readily available to clients on their websites. Here are a few:

ALS Environmental
Torrent Lab
Spectrum Analytical

Do you have any funny stories about your experience with storm water sampling or short hold times? Any times when you were forced to leave your own birthday party? Any moments of desperation, where you arrived to the shipping location only moments before close? Share your story — we’d love to hear it!

Written by: Karen Baer

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