Remote Sampling Probe with Fast GC/MS Analysis: Subsurface Detection of Environmental Contaminants

EPA Grant Number: R826184
Title: Remote Sampling Probe with Fast GC/MS Analysis: Subsurface Detection of Environmental Contaminants
Investigators: Robbat, Albert , Gorshteyn, Alexander , Katayenko, Zunovi , Smarason, Sigurdur
Institution: Tufts University
EPA Project Officer: Lasat, Mitch
Project Period: February 16, 1998 through February 15, 2001
Project Amount: $305,234
RFA: Exploratory Research - Environmental Chemistry (1997) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Water , Land and Waste Management , Air , Engineering and Environmental Chemistry


The nation has spent more than $26 billion cleaning its hazardous waste sites. Traditional sample collection and analysis programs involve collecting subsurface soil samples and sending them off-site for analysis. This static approach has resulted in significant cost. The proposed research is aimed at developing tools that will result in a more dynamic process. We propose to thermally extract organic compounds bound to soil and transport them above ground for fast gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS) analysis. The goal is to collect and analyze contaminants on-site as near real-time as possible both volatile organics (VOC) and semi-VOCs.


Subsurface contaminants will be collected by heating the soil to 400?C, with the hot vapor freeze trapped above ground and subsequent introduction into the GC/MS. Initial experiments show that Polychlorinated Biphenyls and Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons can be extracted from soil up to distances of 70-ft. Research aimed at determining material balance and thermal extraction efficiencies as a function of soil-moisture content and soil type for the US EPA Soil Screening Level (SSL) organics will be investigated at the 20 DAF concentrations. The mathematical algorithms developed to deconvolute complex MS signals can provide unambiguous identification and good concentration estimates for the SSL organics in under 7min. Fast GC/MS with sample introduction by thermal desorption (TD) and membrane transport is proposed. This combination should result in improved performance of the MS by reducing film deposit. The combined tools should provide unmatched sample throughput rates and low detection limits. TECPP and TDGC/MS method detection limit, measurement precision and accuracy studies will be made and compared with the 20 DAF concentration. Field vs. laboratory results will be compared to decide optimum system performance.

Expected Results:

No technology exists today that can accomplish this goal without bringing samples to the surface. This research should provide the tools necessary to collect and analyze subsurface contaminants as near to real-time as possible. Experience has shown that 50% cost savings can be achieved by incorporating a dynamic process into site cleanup efforts.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 16 publications for this project

Journal Articles:

Journal Articles have been submitted on this project: View all 6 journal articles for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

soil, in situ analysis, on-line monitoring, on-site decision making, expedited site characterization, dynamic workplans, RFA, Scientific Discipline, Air, Toxics, Waste, Ecology, Remediation, Environmental Chemistry, Chemistry, HAPS, Hazardous Waste, Hazardous, Engineering, Chemistry, & Physics, Electron Microscopy, thermal extraction, DNAPL, mass spectrometry, subsurface, PCBs, VOCs, Polychlorinated biphenyls (Aroclors), soil screening, gas chromatography, PAH, organic compounds, subsurface detection, analytical chemistry, environmental contaminants, PCB, hazardous chemicals, remote sampling probe

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 1998
  • 1999 Progress Report
  • Final Report