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 CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Dec. 2 /PRNewswire/ -- An advanced chemical "supersleuthing" technique -- analogous to a detective's dusting for fingerprints -- recently has meant great strides in the ability to identify the real culprits in oil spills and hazardous waste pollution.
 The environmental chemistry technique, currently a research focus of scientists at Arthur D. Little international consulting company, increasingly is being called into use by businesses and industries that deal with petroleum and other contaminants. The federal and state governments recently have more aggressively focused their attention on site cleanup and damage to natural resources, with fines for environmental damage often totaling millions of dollars.
 Called "advanced chemical fingerprinting," the state-of-the-art process was used to help determine long-term damage from the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Not limited to oil spills, the technique enables scientists to help determine the true sources of many types of chemical pollution, even if there are multiple polluters and the pollution dates back decades and is aged and weathered.
 The technique has been used at numerous contaminated land sites and at such diverse locations as the Persian Gulf to sort out sources of oil spills during the Gulf War, Boston and New Bedford harbors, Alaska, California, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Mediterranean Sea.
 Dr. Paul Boehm, managing director of earth and marine sciences at Arthur D. Little and one of the principal architects of the technique, said it works by identifying the unique and sometimes subtly different molecular markers or "fingerprints" of crude oil and petroleum products, coal tar, creosote, and other materials at polluted sites to sort out the kinds of pollutants and their sources. The technique, using gas chromatography and mass spectrometry, is especially helpful at sites that may have more than one source of pollution -- common in many urban areas -- or in sites where the polluting substance is no longer fresh and the traditional older method of identification yields "smudged" fingerprinting results.
 As the fingerprinting technique has become more sophisticated, it is being used increasingly by law firms, banks, insurance companies and regulators to determine what the pollutants are, where they came from, and what share of responsibility each polluter should bear for environmental damage.
 Currently it is an important tool for use in the aggressive Natural Resource Damage Assessment regulations (NRDA), the government's assessment of the a ?of "injury" to the natural environment caused by oil or chemical pollution. Labeled a "sleeping giant" by industry watchers, newly revised NRDA regulations under the Oil Pollution Act and CERCLA (Superfund) have the potential for staggering financial impact on industries which pollute; experts predict that the financial liability for polluting industries under NRDA will far exceed the cost of site cleanup.
 Natural resource injuries and monetary damages are being assessed for present or past pollution. As new NRDA regulations are being promulgated, many states have enacted laws for the recovery of natural resource damages. Experts say the oil, chemical, pulp and paper and mining companies potentially face the most serious claims.
 Advanced chemical fingerprinting has recently been used in scores of cases -- including some well known ones -- to help determine a fair assessment of damages and allocation of responsibility:
 -- The most famous example was the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Scientists said this spring that chemical fingerprinting revealed that most of the oil in the offshore sediments of Prince William Sound was not oil from the spill, but from other sources including oil from natural oil seeps in the area that date back hundreds of years.
 -- Fingerprinting was used in the New Bedford Harbor Superfund site, where multiple inputs of PCBs and heavy metals had to be sorted out. It saved one industry millions of dollars, by demonstrating that its contribution to the pollution was substantially less than the federal government originally believed. Fingerprinting also has been used to help determine the contribution of municipal effluents and other industrial sources in Boston Harbor.
 -- Offshore oil operators in the Gulf of Mexico were forbidden by the government to use or discharge diesel fuel in operations, so they turned to the more benign mineral oil. But the EPA, using traditional techniques, was unable to differentiate the mineral oil from diesel fuel and got "false positive" results. The offshore oil operators, facing stiff fines and possible closure, used advanced chemical fingerprinting to show the subtly different fingerprints of the two oils, resulting in the EPA revising their identification methods.
 -- A state agency filed a claim against a property owner -- a coal tar processing site -- for contaminating river sediments with PAH, and assigned them full responsibility for the expensive sediment cleanup. Advanced chemical fingerprinting showed that most of the PAH's in the sediment actually came from petroleum spillage from nearby operations and not from the contaminated site.
 Recently highlighted at the national meeting of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry at a session chaired by Boehm, and in sessions on the Exxon Valdez oil spill and on NRDA, advanced chemical fingerprinting techniques are rapidly becoming important tools in environmental science.
 -0- 12/2/93
 /CONTACT: Diane Millikan of Arthur D. Little, 617-498-5896/

CO: Arthur D. Little, Inc. ST: Massachusetts IN: ENV SU:

DJ-CM -- NE016 -- 9986 12/02/93 16:53 EST
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Publication:PR Newswire
Date:Dec 2, 1993

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