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New Method to Quickly and Cheaply Determine Metal Contamination at Sites

In a recent paper in the Journal of Environmental Pollution, researchers from Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia describe a new accurate, rapid and inexpensive method for assessing metal-contaminated sites.  The paper describes the results of in-field trials of the new method and comparison of it to lab results.

The new method uses a combination of portable X-ray Fluorescence technology (pXRF) – a popular on-site contamination-measuring system – with conventional laboratory analysis to accurately measure the extent and distribution of metal contamination at a site.

“Metal-contaminated sites are often haphazard when it comes to the distribution of metal contaminants, making it problematic for investigators when they are limited by the costs associated with analyzing a large number of samples in the lab.  As such, investigators are expected to attempt to characterize contaminated sites with a limited number of laboratory measurements to save on costs,” said lead author Marek Rouillon.

“On the other hand, when investigators are free to take a large number of measurements to determine the contamination at a site, they gain a greater understanding of the extent and distribution of the contamination, therefore lowering the risk of site misclassification,” Rouillon added.

As a result, the researchers wanted to develop a way to measure more samples using a rapid on-site measurement method that produced results in an accurate and more cost effective manner than current techniques allowed.

“To achieve this, we decided to integrate the advantages of in-situ pXRF, an inexpensive measurement method that can be done on-site allowing investigators to collect real-time data, with the more thorough laboratory analysis technique of ICP–MS,” explained Rouillon.

The study, described in the Journal article, demonstrated that 20 second in-situ pXRF measurements can be corrected to align with a small subset of ICP–MS data, allowing for the accurate, rapid and inexpensive high resolution characterization of metal-contaminated sites.  The researchers found that sampling (not analysis) contributes the greatest uncertainty towards measurements, and should be estimated at each metal-contaminated site.

“Measuring contaminants in real-time using in-situ pXRF enables efficient, on-site decision making for further sampling, without the need to return to the site,” explained Professor Mark Taylor.  “This is an incredibly useful way to go about testing for metal contamination at a site.”

The researchers emphasize that the new method has several benefits including superior site characterization, greater soil-mapping resolution, reduced uncertainty around the site mean and reduced sampling uncertainty.

“Our in-situ pXRF/ICP–MS method not only generates superior site assessment information for more confident decision making, but is less expensive when compared to the current standard practice of merely sampling and off-site laboratory measurements,” concluded Professor Rouillon.

Forecast on Chemical Detection Equipment Market

Future Market Insights (FMI), is a market intelligence and consulting firm, recently issued a forecast report for the chemical detection equipment market.

In the view of FMI, a new era of chemical warfare and increased man-made threats is on the rise with the potential to cause harm.  The need for rapid identification of chemical or biological agents involved in any hazardous materials (Hazmat) is necessary to prevent incidents.

Chemical detection equipment are generally used to identify the presence and intensity of chemical agents in soil, air as well as water and to alert respective authorities and personnel to the existence of toxic or hazardous substances, so necessary action can be taken to prevent catastrophes, as it can be dangerous whether it is in a weaponized or non-weaponized form. Testing for the presence of these materials is necessary for production sites/industrial areas and exposed areas to prevent any incident.  Incidents from the past have resulted in the chemical industry to utilize reliable and high quality chemical equipment for monitoring of chemical plants and industries, hence increasing the demand for chemical detection equipment.

Rising threats from terrorist organizations have forced countries to use chemical detection equipment in all important sites, such as the airport, water distribution plant, nuclear power plant, tourist places and many other critical infrastructure facilities for the purpose of public safety. Chemical detection equipment is also used in facilities like nuclear power plant, chemical production facilities and various other industries to identify the presence and intensity of Radiation & chemical agents in soil, air as well as water.

Chemical Detection Equipment Market: Dynamics

Growth in the chemical detection equipment market is mainly due to an increase in terrorist threats, as well as increasing safety regulations.  The increase in production of hazardous materials for industrial applications has also increased the level of threat, due to accidents or misuse by terrorists.  Strict laws for buying and selling of hazardous chemicals and increased activities by law enforcements and safety and security administrations has led to growth of the chemical detection equipment market.  Awareness among people and stringent government regulations has created immense pressure on corporates to keep chemical detection equipment at their sites to ensure safety of the workforce.  As a result, usage of chemical detection equipment in many industries has consequently surged its demand globally.

On the other hand, the high price of this equipment and high operating cost (cost of the chemicals used in making detection equipment) are restraints to the growth of the global chemical detection equipment market.

Among the chemical detection equipment available in the market, equipment that is small, effective, simple and relatively cheap are in trend and hold the maximum market share.  Portable chemical detection equipment with infrared technology & Raman spectroscopy has already captured a major market share due to the above stated reasons.

Chemical Detection Equipment Market: Regional Outlook

North America is a major market for chemical detection equipment as continuous research and development is required in this field and the United States is a leader in the R&D of chemical detection technology.  The increase in terrorist threats and incidents related to chemicals in recent years has garnered much attention from people and governments all over the world.  The countries affected by terrorism are major markets for chemical detection equipment, such as India, the United Kingdom, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.

Hazmat Response and Confirmation of Chemical Identity

Philip Tackett, a certified HAZMAT responder and a Product Manager at FLIR, discusses its latest tool for chemical identification

Civilian and military responders face scenarios ranging from intentional chemical attacks and accidental hazardous material (HAZMAT) releases to natural disasters and environmental monitoring or remediation efforts.  Responders step on-scene with a diverse toolkit –sometimes small and other times extensive. It is critical to stay familiar with the equipment in the kit, because no single chemical detection tool can provide answers for every scenario.

Colorimetric test kits are one of the most commonly used technologies for quickly collecting presumptive information about a chemical. They are used to determine if a threat is present and determine its chemical class.  This information is important, but knowing the exact identity of a chemical can inform a safer response.  True chemical identity can provide information to responders and law enforcement officials beyond the initial threat, and lead to further discoveries to further safeguard the public.

While some detectors only indicate the presence of a chemical, others specifically detect hazards in the presence ofa complex chemical background, like a gas chromatograph mass spectrometer (GC/MS).  GC/MS is an incredibly sensitive and highly specific tool commonly used in laboratory environments.  It can sense trace level chemicals other equipment can’t, while also providing the ability to positively identify the chemical. But chemical emergencies don’t just happen in laboratories –they can happen anywhere.

Real-time chemical detection and identification in the field is critical to the CBRNE or HAZMAT response mission.  Confirmatory chemical identification enables responders to mitigate a threat and protect people and the environment from harm.

The most challenging aspects of taking gold-standard technology like GC/MS into the field is survivability in harsh environments and ease of use.  Significant technological advancements have led to the development of the FLIR Griffin G510 person-portable GC/MS system.  Its lab-quality detection performance, simple-to-use interface, and rugged construction are ideal for high-consequence response missions.

Response missions take place in complex environments that the GC/MS must withstand.  The Griffin G510 is completely self-contained in a 36-pound device, including batteries, carrier gas, vacuum system, injector, and heated sample probe. It is also the first IP65-rated portable GC/MS.  This means it’s dust-tight and spray-resistant, which adds flexibility to decontamination procedures.  There is no 40-pound external service module like other portable GC/MS systems and no 20-pound external pump under the bench like those seen in a laboratory. Batteries last up to four hours and are hot swappable, should the mission extend longer than expected, which eliminates the need for a power generator.  The Griffin G510 is designed from the ground up to operate outside of the lab.

Hazmat technicians will dive into using the features that deliver lab-quality analysis.  First on-scene operators will appreciate that they don’t need a Ph.D. to use it.  Basic operator training is completed in only two hours, while expert training can be completed in a single day.

The user interface truly sets it apart from other portable GC/MS systems.  It’s streamlined design and guided controls help the user select the mode of operation.  First responders must perform quickly and with limited dexterity when wearing required PPE.  They are responsible for sample and data collection, and in some cases, real-time decision making.  The G510 alerts the operator with visual alarm confirmation both on the handheld probe, as well as the on-board 9” touchscreen.  The large touchscreen can be operated by a responder while wearing full personal protective equipment (PPE).

Hazmat responders can use the Griffin G510 to analyze all phases of matter (solid, liquid, gas).  Its integrated survey mode capability identifies vapor-phase chemical threats within seconds.  Its integrated split/splitless liquid injector enables responders to perform direct injection of organic liquids –an industry first.  This same injector also accepts other sampling tools, including solid-phase micro-extraction (SPME), off-the-shelf headspace analyzers, and the Prepless Sample Introduction (PSI) Probe.  The PSI-Probe directly accepts solid samples in their native form (such as soil and water-based materials).  The Griffin G510 reduces the burden of sample preparation for the operator and provides ultimate flexibility as the daily mission changes. Hazardous environments demand the ultimate toolbox include confirmatory instrumentation like GC/MS.  The Griffin G510 portable GC/MS redefines performance, ease of use, and value for the responder toolkit.