Experts successfully test a novel oil spill cleanup technology

As reported in Science Daily, researchers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) successfully tested a novel technology that can accelerate the combustion of crude oil floating on water.  By combusting spilled fuel, it is argued that the potential for long term environmental impacts are minimized.  The Flame Refluxer, developed by fire protection engineering researchers, could make it possible to burn off spilled oil quickly while producing relatively low levels of air pollutants.

The research from the technology was partially funded by the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE).  The recent tests were conducted at the United States Coast Guard’s (USCC) Joint Maritime Test Facility on Little Sand Island, located in Mobile Bay, Alabama.  The tests involved controlled burns of oil in a specially designed test tank on the island.

“In-situ burning has been used with great success, and it is our goal to support research that makes a good method even better,” said Karen Stone, oil spill response engineer at BSEE.  “This research and the results of these tests are particularly exciting.  We saw hotter fires increase the amount of oil that was consumed, what appears to be cleaner emissions, and a significant reduction in burn residue after the burn.  Initially we were hopeful that the technology could capture any remaining residue after the burn, but the fires burned so efficiently there was very little to collect.”

When oil is spilled in open water, burning it in place (called in-situ burning) can be an effective method for removing the oil before it can settle into the water column and cause ecological harm.  In fact, the current research project is based, in part, on the experience of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, during which more than 400 controlled burns removed between 220,000 and 310,000 barrels of oil from the ocean’s surface.


While that experience demonstrated the potential for burns to become an effective clean-up tool, they also made clear the limitations of current techniques.  For example, open-water oil fires can be difficult to sustain, they produce smoke, and they leave behind a tar-like residue that can harm marine life.  The Flame Refluxer is designed to overcome each of those issues.

According to Scott Fields of the USCG Research and Development Center “in-situ burning is already a very successful process, but we want to improve the air quality for our first responders who are engaged in oil spill cleanup.”

The Flame Refluxer consists of metal coils attached to a blanket made from copper wool sandwiched between two layers of copper mesh.  The blanket is designed to be placed on top of floating oil that has been collected with a boom towed by boats.  After the oil is ignited, the coils and blanket transmit heat from the flames to superheat the oil, which increases its burning rate and efficiency.  As a result, the oil burns more completely.  The more complete combustion produces fewer airborne emissions, and any solid residue is captured by the copper wool and kept out of the water column.

The technology was developed at WPI as an outgrowth of research funded by the U.S. Department of the Interior aimed at assessing the feasibility of using in-situ burns to clean up oil spills in remote locations in the Arctic, where harsh weather can make it difficult to quickly mobilize clean-up equipment and crews.  When laboratory tests identified the challenges of igniting and sustaining oil fires on ice and in cold water, researchers at WPI began exploring methods for making the oil easier to burn by transmitting heat from the flames to the oil.  The Flame Refluxer is the product of that exploration.

“The technology is so simple, it has no moving parts, it’s inexpensive, and it significantly enhances the burning rate of oil.  The tests we conducted at this unique facility will allow us to advance the technology closer to actual deployment” said Professor Rangwala, a fire protection engineer at WPI and lead researcher.

During test burns conducted with and without the Flame Refluxer, the researchers measured a number of parameters, including temperatures above the oil fire and the flow rate of oil delivered to the test apparatus, in order to determine how effectively the Flame Refluxer conveyed heat from the flames to the oil (a process known as heat flux) and how it changed the oil burning rate.  An air sampling station collected emissions produced by the fire and continuously measured several combustion byproducts: carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10).  The copper blanket was weighed before and after each test to see how effectively it trapped residue from the oil fires.

While it will take time to analyze the large volume of data collected during the test burns and report official results, Professor Rangwala said the research team made several observations that suggested that the Flame Refluxer technology performed as expected.  “Where we observed thick black smoke during a baseline test, where we burned crude oil without the blanket and coils, when the Refluxer was in use, the smoke was thinner and grey, even though more oil was being combusted.  In fact, our measurements show that between four and five times as much oil was burned per minute with the Flame Refluxer in place.  Finally, we observed that virtually no residue was left over after our burns with the Refluxer, an indication that it promotes more complete combustion of the oil.”

Cleantech one of the fastest growing industries in B.C.: KPMG

The cleantech industry was worth $1.8 bilion to British Columbia’s economy in 2016, and it is outpacing most other sectors in terms of growth and job creation, according to a recently releasedKPMG report.

The number of B.C. cleantech companies, which include those whose primary purposes are clean energy production, water treatment and energy or resource management, increased from 202 in 2010 to 273 last year.  The sector employed 8,560 people last year, and the average salary was $84,000 – up from $68,000 in 2009.

“The cleantech sector continues to both experience and drive growth in our province as well as provide an attractive investment opportunities for British Columbians,” said KPMG Canada’s Lorne Burns, who authored the report.

“The jobs it offers are desirable ones; average salaries are high and the technologies those jobs produce contribute to a cleaner and more sustainable world.”

Globally, the cleantech industry is worth $3 trillion, and this is growing, according to KPMG’s study. The United States is the biggest customer of B.C.’s cleantech sector, and this is expected to grow over the next three to five years. As well, sales to Europe, Asia and other countries are expected to increase to one-third of total cleantech revenue by 2021.+

Tersus Environmental, LLC Enters Into Patent License for ISCR Technology

Tersus Environmental, LLC (Tersus) and Provectus Environmental Products, Inc. (PEP) recently announced today they had entered into a patent licensing agreement granting Tersus with a non-exclusive sublicense to the Innovative Environmental Technologies, Inc. (IET) patents related to in situ chemical reduction (ISCR).  Under the agreement, Tersus will develop and commercial products for ISCR including its new product, , MicroEVO™ ISCR.

MicroEVO™ ISCR, is composed of controlled-release water mixable oil (EDS-ER™) and zero valent iron (ZVI) particles used for the in situ treatment of groundwater and saturated soil.  The incorporation of ZVI enhances chlorinated contaminant remediation by enabling various chemical reduction pathways.

“We are pleased to have added Tersus to our growing list of sub-licensees,” said Michael Scalzi, CEO, Provectus; President, IET.  “Our position has been to share this technology across the environmental remediation industry, at a nominal cost, so that the most efficient and proven process for the degradation of chlorinated solvents in groundwater may be utilized by as many practitioners as possible.”

“We appreciate IET’s willingness to share this technology.  This license agreement with Provectus enables us to further expand our family of products for chlorinated solvent remediation,” said Tersus’ Managing Partner, Gary Birk.

Tersus Environmental develops and commercializes of technologies for the remediation of soil and groundwater.  Provectus Environmental Products develops and commercializes environmental biotechnologies.  Innovative Environmental Technologies, Inc. is a remedial contractor.

Oil Spills: Preventing Future Spills by Learning from Past Incidents

Last November saw the Canadian federal government approve the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Expansion Plan and the Enbridge Line 3 Replacement Plan. Both projects have been met with fierce opposition from First Nations communities, local governments and environmentalists. Chief among their concerns is the risk of crude oil spilling into the environment. So it would be prudent to look at past spills involving each line and reflect on the possible dangers they pose.

A Note on Diluted Bitumen

One of the products that both the Kinder Morgan and Enbridge pipelines transport is diluted bitumen.  Bitumen is a semi-liquid mixture of oil, sand and clay. This initial bitumen is difficult to transport due to its high density, viscosity and adhesive properties. To move bitumen, it is mixed with a diluent like naphtha or other light hydrocarbons.

When diluted bitumen is spilled onto a water body, it initially floats and spreads like conventional oil. Overtime, the volatile components in the oil evaporate and pose a possible health and fire hazard. As the spilled oil undergoes weathering, it becomes more viscous and dense. This weathered substance than mix with sediment to form tar balls and sink, making subsequent recovery very difficult.

Cleaning up a bitumen spill is a challenge. The oil on the surface of the water can be recovered using mechanical skimmers and booms. Meanwhile commercial chemical dispersants have limited effectiveness when used on diluted bitumen. The best practices for recovering bitumen that sinks underneath the water are still being researched.

Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain: Alberta to the Coast of British Colombia

The Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline currently transports light and heavy crude oils including diluted bitumen. It began transporting oil from Edmonton, Alberta to Burnaby, British Colombia in 1961. Since it began operations, there have been 82 spills that have been reported to the National Energy Board for the Trans Mountain line.

One noteworthy spill occurred on July 24, 2007 at 12:32 pm in the City of Burnaby (Population of 223 220). An excavator bucket which belonged to a contractor struck and punctured the line. The heavy crude oil sprayed into the air for 25 minutes until the pipeline was isolated. About 234 000 L was released, covering local residences and roads and contaminating the surrounding soil. 100 000L of oil seeped into the storm drain system affecting both the Burrard Inlet and to a smaller extent the Kask Creek.

To respond to the 2007 spill in Burnaby, a unified command was set up involving Kinder Morgan Canada, the National Energy Board and BC Ministry of Environment. The RCMP and Burnaby Fire Department secured the area evacuated about 225 residents from their home. Meanwhile, the Western Canada Marine Response Corporation responded to the spill on the Burrard Inlet at 1:24 pm and was booming the area by 2:15 pm. Boomings, skimmers and absorbent pads were all deployed along the rocky shoreline along with a cleaning formula. The contaminated soil was excavated while surrounding homes were re-landscaped and cleaned. While more than half of the residents were able to return the same day, five of the houses were deemed unlivable for four months. Since the spill was deemed an accident, Kinder Morgan and the other two offending parties were fined $1 000 and had to contribute $149 000 to B.C.’s Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation. Kinder Morgan also had to pay $100 000 towards a new education and training program.

Enbridge Line 3: Alberta to Wisconsin

The Line 3 Pipeline is one of a series of pipelines used by Enbridge to transport crude oil and natural gas. It was constructed in 1967 and currently transports crude oil from Hardisty, Alberta to Superior, Wisconsin.

The initial spill was found near Clearbrook, Minnesota (Population of 533) on November 13, 2007 at 7:00 am. About two barrels of crude oil were released due to two pinhole leaks caused by fatigue cracks along the longitudinal seam of the DSAW pipe. The spill was reported to the Minnesota Office of Pipeline Safety Duty Officer at 8:22 am while the line was closed. The contaminated soil was extracted and moved to a disposal site.

The second release occurred when Enbridge attempted to replace the damaged pipe.  On November 28, 2007 at 3:47 pm when the replacement pipe was being tested, the coupling used for the replacement failed. Oil was emitted as a spray and ignited once it reached a nearby heater being used by the workers.


The resulting fire and explosion led to the death of two Enbridge employees and the evacuation of several households. Local police, ambulances, fire departments and the Red Cross responded to the accident and Line 1, 2 & 4 were also shut down within minutes. Since the released oil was contained within a worksite excavation, it was allowed to burn off. However the thick smoke and soot were still a cause for concern.

Every pipeline incident is a teachable moment. Companies learn from past incidents to improve safety and operational practices to prevent future incidents.  Both Enbridge and Kinder Morgan have made changes to their safety and operational procedures after these spills. Kinder Morgan formed the Pipeline Protection Group who focuses solely on pipeline protection. Enbridge made changes to their pipeline repair and replacement protocols. But it’s important to look back at these past incidents when considering the risk pipelines present.


About the Author

Jerdon Small Phillips is an Engineer-in-Training and graduate from Sheridan College’s Environmental Control program with a B.Sc. in Chemical Engineering from Queen’s University.  He is currently volunteering with the WEAO Professional Development and Communications Sub-Committee.  He can be reached at

Webinar on Leveraging Resources for Brownfields Revitalization:

Brownfield grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are one of many sources of funds that can support redevelopment of contaminated sites. This webinar will highlight a number of redevelopment resources available from the National Park Service (NPS), The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to leverage your brownfield dollars. The webinar will also feature a presentation from a community that has successfully used grants, loans and other support from these agencies for its revitalization efforts. It is the fourth in OBLR’s webinar series on what communities need to know to successfully leverage resources for brownfields revitalization.

The webinar is scheduled for February 28th from 1:00 pm until 2:30 pm EST.

To register, visit the webinar registration website.

Science March – April 22, 2017

March for Science is planned in Washington D.C. and around the world on April 22nd, 2017.  The marches, organized by scientists to highlight the importance of research, are meant to be a celebration of science as opposed to a protest.

The organizers of the March for Science are scientists and science enthusiasts.  They claim that we all recognize that science is everywhere and affects everyone.

To determine if your community is holding a satellite march, visit

Brownfields Remediation Conference – Brantford, Ontario

The City of Brantford will be hosting the 2017 Inter-Municipality Brownfield Coordinators Conference this coming June in the City of Brantford.  The exact date and other details about the conference are pending.

The theme of the planned one and a half day conference will be Brownfield Prevention.   Included in the event will be a bus tour of brownfield sites and a special brainstorming session on the tools for implementation in in medium-sized cities.  The objective the conference will be to develop a working paper about brownfield prevention tools.

The conference organizers hope to attract more than 20 municipal leaders in brownfield remediation from across Ontario and beyond.

The City of Brantford considers itself a leader on brownfield redevelopment and will showcase work done on two redeveloped areas – the former Greenwich-Mohawk and Sydenham-Pearl industrial sites.  The City of Brantford moved to clean up the sites without having a developer waiting in the wings for the remediation to be done.

The Sydenham-Pearl site, which has been cleaned up, consists of two properties at 17 and 22 Sydenham St.  Crown Electric, which went out of business in 1993, occupied 17 Sydenham. The property, seized by the province for unpaid taxes in 1995, became the site of numerous fires. In 2004, the city stepped in and demolished the building after there were three fires in eight months at the site.  The site at 22 Sydenham was home of Domtar, a manufacturer of roofing materials for decades. Northern Globe Building Materials Inc. took over the operation until it went into receivership and closed in 1999.  The property became a neighbourhood eyesore and the site of many fires including one in 2001, which forced the city to take action. The city spent $650,000 to level the buildings and clear the site.

Greenwich-Mohawk, meanwhile, was once home to some of Brantford’s biggest and best-known factories including Massey, Cockshutt and Sternson. When those companies closed, many of the buildings were abandoned and fell into disrepair.  Fires plagued the Greenwich-Mohawk site as well before the city moved in and the buildings were demolished. The site has since been cleaned up in a massive operation that cost close to $15.5 million.

Inventory of Hazardous Materials Certification for Ships

DNV GL, a safety and sustainability service firm, and Norddeutsche Reederei H. Schuldt, a shipping company headquartered in Germany, have signed a contract to carry out Inventory of Hazardous Materials (IHM) certifications for the shipping company’s managed fleet of more than 50 vessels.  The first vessel to undergo sampling and testing is the 3700 TEU container vessel Northern Dexterity.  Once complete, this certification provides independent verification of the vessels’ IHM, as required by the European Ship Recycling Regulation.

“The IHM is an important step on the way to ensuring environmentally responsible ship recycling and therefore also important to us at Norddeutsche Reederei.  DNV GL has long-standing experience in this field and we are pleased to be working with them on this,” says Dennys Wulf, Quality Management Director at Norddeutsche Reederei H. Schuldt.

“Norddeutsche Reederei has clearly demonstrated its commitment to establishing sustainable recycling practices and we at DNV GL are very pleased to have been chosen as a partner for this.  Having fleets evaluated early on is something we recommend to all our customers, and this is an excellent example,” adds Gerhard Aulbert, Global Head of Practice Ship Recycling at DNV GL – Maritime.

The sampling and analyses on board Northern Dexterity is being carried out by hazmat specialists from the two independent laboratories exag GmbH Marine Consulting and QSU GmbH, under the supervision of DNV GL.  The vessel is scheduled to receive the IHM certificate in February 2017. The project is expected to be completed by early 2018.  The IHM is one of the cornerstones of the European Ship Recycling Regulation, according to which every EU-flagged new-build has to carry an inventory of all hazardous materials contained in its structure or equipment with a statement of compliance by 31 December 2018.  The IHM is also an important feature of the Hong Kong Convention, which is expected to enter into force in 2020.

The European Ship Recycling Regulation, in force since 30 December 2013, addresses the environmental and health issues associated with ship recycling while avoiding unnecessary economic burdens.  Applicable to all EU-flagged vessels as well as non-EU-flagged ships calling at or anchoring in ports within the European Union, it accelerates the implementation of the requirements of the Hong Kong Convention and sets out responsibilities for ship owners and recycling facilities both within the EU and in other countries.  Of around 60,000 ships around the world, about two thirds are affected by it.

What is a Brownfield? You be Judge

There are many definitions of a brownfield. The U.S. EPA defines a brownfield as follows:

The term “brownfield site” means real property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.

The Ontario Ministry of the Environment defines a brownfield as follows:

Brownfield properties are vacant or underutilized places where past industrial or commercial activities may have left contamination (chemical pollution) behind.  Brownfields can: (1) pose health and safety risks; (2) be costly for the communities where they are located; and (3) be redeveloped to meet health, safety and environmental standards.

Based on the definitions above, is the following property described below a brownfield?

Background on the Property

The subject property contains environmental contamination in the ground due to the operational activities of a previous land use.  The soil and groundwater contamination at the property is the result of a former gas station and automobile repair garage in operation between approximately the 1960s and 1990.  The extent of the contamination has rendered the property vacant, under-utilized, unsafe, unproductive and abandoned.

In 1992, the portion of the property containing the gas station was severed to divide the still operational gas station from the former automobile service garage.  The severed off portion of the original property (i.e., the property in question) has not been utilized for any purposes since 1992.

The local municipality, recognizing contamination was evident at the subject property, subsequently required that a Record of Site Condition (RSC) be completed prior to the draft approved development occurring at this location.  A RSC a technical document that summarizes the environmental condition of a property, based on the completion of environmental site assessments.

A signed Development Agreement requested by the Municipality stipulates this requirement be completed prior to proceeding.  In addition, the Municipality placed a “Holding” Zone designation on the property in its Zoning By-law prohibiting development until a RSC is provided.

A toxicologist reviewed the soil and groundwater concentrations present at the subject property and determined that human health risks may be present as result of the subsurface contamination and the subject property may therefore be considered ‘unsafe’.

Under Utilization

Although some remediation was performed, contamination from an off-site source prevented total and complete clean-up and the ability to state the property was clean to the applicable clean-up standard.  As such, a site specific risk assessment (SSRA) was performed at considerable cost.  The SSRA was eventually approved by the MOECC.  The clean-up (Phase III ESA) report and SSRA were used to support the RSC.

The municipality was of the view that the property was not a brownfield because the subsurface area impacted by contamination represents only 5 percent of the property.  Based on this percentage, the municipality stated there was no evidence that the extent of the contamination in relation to the overall property rendered the site underutilized or vacant.  As such, the municipality held the view the property was not a brownfield.

The property owner disagrees with the opinion of the municipality as to why the property is vacant and underutilized.  The municipality was preventing development of any portion of the property unless the property owner committed the time, effort, and money to perform the clean-up, conduct the SSRA, and file a RSC.  Regardless of the extent of contamination at the property, significant money and time was spent to get the property to the point where the municipality would rescind the “Holding” Zone designation and allow the vacant, underutilized property to be developed.

Your Opinion

Is the property a brownfield?  The local municipality says no.  What say you?

U.S. EPA Publishes New Toxicity Criteria for Benzo(a)pyrene

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) has just completed and published new toxicity criteria for benzo(a)pyrene – specifically an oral reference dose (RfD), an inhalation reference concentration (RfC), an oral slope factor (OSF), and an inhalation unit risk (IUR). Although toxicity criteria were considered for the dermal contact exposure pathway, the U.S. EPA concluded that the methods for dermal evaluation of benzo(a)pyrene required further development. 

The net effect of the new toxicity criteria, except for exposure to air under an industrial scenario, will be to reduce the estimated human health hazard that may be associated with benzo(a)pyrene on contaminated sites. The full benzo(a)pyrene report is available at this EPA website:

Toxicity criteria form the basis of human health risk assessments and the calculation of screening levels and remediation goals.  The U.S. EPA and state environmental regulatory agencies will use the new toxicity criteria to inform environmental risk management decisions on sites where benzo(a)pyrene is identified as a chemical of concern.

What is Benzo(a)pyrene?

Benzo(a)pyrene is often considered to be the most carcinogenic chemical within the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) class of chemicals, and therefore often drives cleanup at PAH contaminated sites.  PAHs are ubiquitous in the environment from natural sources (e.g., coal tars, shale oils, and crude oils, and forest fires) and as a result of anthropogenic activities, including the combustion of fossil fuels in industrial processes and automobiles.  Workers may be exposed to benzo(a)pyrene in the production of aluminum, coke, graphite, and silicon carbide, and in the distillation of coal tar for consumer and medical products.  Cigarette smoke and smoked or barbecued foods are major non-occupational sources of benzo(a)pyrene.  Dermal exposure may occur through contact with materials containing soot, tar, or crude petroleum, including consumer and medical products containing coal tar, such as coal tar-based shampoos and treatments for skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis.  Environmental exposures that are high enough to be a health concern may occur on sites where PAHs have been produced or released.  There is no known commercial use for benzo(a)pyrene.

How Might Screening Levels Change?

Given the new toxicity criteria, the U.S. EPA’s Regional Screening Levels (RSLs) for benzo(a)pyrene will also change.

RSLs for benzo(a)pyrene were generated, using the U.S. EPA’s on-line RSL calculator, for residential and composite worker receptors for soil, tap water, and air (Table 1).


Based on this evaluation, all RSLs for benzo(a)pyrene will increase (i.e. become less stringent), except the composite worker screening level for air.  With increased screening levels, benzo(a)pyrene will be less likely to trigger further investigation, mitigation, or remediation.

Screening levels published by state regulatory agencies are also likely to change based on the new toxicity criteria for benzo(a)pyrene.


About the Author

Scott Dwyer is Practice Leader, Risk Analysis & Toxicology at Kleinfelder. Kleinfelder is a leading engineering, construction management, design and environmental professional services firm, providing solutions to meet our world’s most complex infrastructure challenges.  Leveraging its integrated, cross-disciplinary team of nearly 2,000 professionals in 70 offices across the U.S., Canada, and Australia, Kleinfelder partners with private and public sector clients to deliver leading-edge solutions on a variety of large-scale projects.  The firm’s reputation for expertise, innovation, and quality, earned since Kleinfelder’s inception in 1961, has solidified our position as a trusted consultant and industry leader.