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...

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: 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. Do not perform hydrogen sampling on newly installed wells; it’s a complete waste of time.  Dissolved...

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. Uses 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! Toxicity 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...

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...

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...

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...

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. ...

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...

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...

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...

Scribing About Scribe: Environmental Software Do or Don't?

The client for a project we worked on in eastern North Carolina required that I use a particular program to collect and manage environmental data. This program, Scribe, was created by the EPA’s Environmental Response Team using Microsoft Access. Because Scribe’s purpose is so similar to environmental management software we were developing, I was, of course, interested in this free product and what it has to offer. Scribe is divided into three main parts, which I will briefly summarize below. These summaries are not designed to be technical reviews but to offer a non-biased viewpoint of Scribe’s capabilities so that you can determine for yourself if you want to learn more. 1. Planning. In the planning section, you create your event. This involves picking/creating your analytical methods, selecting a lab, inputting GPS coordinates of the wells/points that you are sampling, and entering all project information (Project numbers, DART numbers, or Contract Laboratory Program [CLP] lab numbers). One area to pay particular attention to is making sure that the right fields are populated with the correct information depending on the lab you are using. Entering wrong information can cause problems later. 2. Sampling. Scribe’s greatest strength is its versatility. Scribe is designed for Air, Wipe, Biota, Soil/Sediment, Soil Gas, and Water samples. It also leaves ample space to include the sampling data you have collected without overwhelming you with choices. 3. Sample Management. This area allows you to set up and print labels and chain of custody forms, as well as input lab results. However, because the EPA and CLP labs require certain information in certain areas, this part can...

Stupid Is As Stupid Does: Fudging Environmental Data

Awhile back, I was talking to a friend of mine who is also an environmental consultant. He was telling me about a time he hired a subcontractor to tag static water levels. He provided the sub with a map of the site and monitoring well locations and advised him to call him if there were any problems. About a week later, my friend received the water level data. It was at this time he realized that the map he provided to the sub was a couple years old, and some of the wells had since been abandoned. Apparently, by some miracle, the sub managed to gauge these wells anyway. “It was good fake data,” my friend told me. “When I mapped it, all the data points made sense.”  Evidently, the sub had put a lot of thought into it. What I can’t understand is, why go to all the trouble of making up plausible data as opposed to just calling and saying that you’re having a problem finding the well? Needless to say, the wells were gauged again (for free) by a different technician. Making Up Data Making up data is bad, very bad. Even making up data that doesn’t really matter (if there is such a thing) is bad. It calls into question the ethics of the scientist and of the entire company. I’m sure everyone has read the case of Cetero Research. Six research chemists at the Cetero laboratory in Houston were found intentionally entering inaccurate date/time data as to when tests were being run. Why? So they could claim overtime pay! As Cetero conducted its own...

Learning Wakanda (Cool Tool, Weird Name)

I started learning a new tool and framework that I am really excited about.  It’s called Wakanda, and it is awesome!  It’s a complete Javascript stack with its own design studio and integrated design environment (IDE), plus a NoSQL database engine and web server. This relatively new framework comes from the makers of 4D, who hail from France and who have very deep database roots. I know, because for an entire decade of my life (1993 – 2003), I used to use 4D to build internal database applications for my company. What can you do with it? Wakanda is a full web app development framework, where you can build a database model (like tables and fields, and link them up with relationships between tables) and then also build web pages (with interactive elements like buttons, sliders, and tabs) to capture and display the information in your data model, plus you can target desktop PCs, tablets, and smartphones. All from one visual tool, which uses plain javascript. It’s very cool and relatively easy to learn. So with this one single tool, you could build a fully working database-driven HTML5 web application that renders well on browsers accessed via desktop computers, tablets, and smartphones. One of the cooler things about this framework is that it uses a super fast NoSQL database that contains elements of SQL, so you can still connect tables and fields together just like you did with relational databases, but with the speed of a noSQL database engine. Testing your app on the server is as simple as clicking a single button. Getting Started Getting started building web...

First Ever Guidance Document for MRAs Available

Guidance documents are important aspects of the work that we conduct. Yes, they can be annoying, and more than once you are going to wonder, “Why on earth are we doing it this way?”, but nevertheless, guidance documents are necessary. They create a standard and outline procedures that ensure the quality of the data being collected. Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), along with the Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced that they had created the first ever federal guidance document for Microbial Risk Assessments (MRAs) in food and water. The document provides a framework to perform MRAs and lays out a “flexible” set of approaches, methods, and tools, while also providing transparency to the process. From the EPA: Formal risk assessments for food, water, and environmentally-relevant chemicals have been undertaken for decades. However, an overarching microbial risk assessment guideline has not been available until now. The guideline announced today meets this need by providing comprehensive, yet specific and descriptive information for developing assessments of microbial risk in food and water. The document outlining the Microbial Risk Assessment guidelines is now available on the EPA website or by clicking here.   Written by: Chris...
WordPress Appliance - Powered by TurnKey Linux