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The key to establishing the contaminant release date or responsible party is through a thorough understanding of the property which includes chain of use, chain of ownership, geologic and hydrogeologic conditions and contamination chemistry. Since each property is unique, the age dating and chemical fingerprinting is just one piece of the investigative puzzle.

Brydges Engineering in the Environment and Energy has provided professional consulting services including forensic assessment, technical review and expert testimony at a number of petroleum and chemical impacted properties. Client names and contaminated properties are typically kept confidential to protect ongoing legal activities and settlement agreements.

The most effective environmental forensic assessments are completed by a team with the ability to “see” a properties history (known and unknown) and determine how the pieces fits together for a complete and accurate picture. This is a matter of technical expertise, capability and resources, experience and diligence.  Useful end products, defensible analysis, and documentation must be designed for the specific needs of each client. In the case of cost recovery, typically the assessment is presented in a format usable by a legal team. BE3 has completed numerous successful forensic assessments that we used during litigation.

Case Study: Petroleum Contaminated Site

BE3 completed forensic services with the ultimate goal of producing documentation and expert witness testimony in a case between a landowner and two major oil companies. Services included:

  • Detailed review of information and existing data about the property;
  • Recommendations regarding additional environmental sampling and analysis, as appropriate, prior to site remediation;
  • Providing field oversight and documentation of ongoing remedial activities that included the removal of  below ground tanks and impacted soil;
  • Review and comment, as appropriate, on cost of cleanup; and 
  • Scientifically verified opinion for the origin of petroleum impacted material removed from the property.

The specific forensic assessment tasks included a review and forensic assessment of: 

  • Geologic and hydrogeologic information; 
  • Past chemical analytical results of soil and groundwater samples
  • Historical ownership, including ownership changes and property changes;
  • Historical use of the property including entities operating the property and installation and removal of petroleum systems;
  • Collection of additional soil and groundwater samples for chemical fingerprinting and comparison purposes;
  • Interpretation of the chemical data with regard to environmental weathering and historic petroleum additives (refer to the figure showing analysis of new gasoline and “weathered” gasoline); and
  • Cost analysis of past and ongoing remedial activities.

Historic maps and aerial photographs stretching back decades were reviewed along with spill records, past remedial reports, boring logs, groundwater well diagrams and flow direction data. A financial analysis of assessment and cleanup costs spent to date and anticipated future remedial costs was completed. Spill records and data associated with adjacent potential responsible parties were also part of the analysis. 



Case Study: Oil Company with Multiple Site Locations

BE3 completed forensic assessments of four distinct and separate gasoline service station locations in Western New York for preparation for property transaction and environmental remedial cost sharing purposes. 

The goal was to develop property specific forensic profiles for each separate location for use by the client in the legal property transactions. Working closely with the project legal staff, BE3 prepared materials for use in legal briefs and to support formal affidavits. 

Case Study: Brownfield Involving Release of Chlorinated Solvents

BE3 completed chlorinated solvent assessments and remedial actions for a group of adjacent properties with multiple owners. The past use of all the properties contributed to chlorinated solvent impacts to the environment and an adjacent waterway. Generally, at sites where PCE (trade name: Perc) contamination is encountered, some level of natural attenuation has occurred. PCE breaks down as it loses chlorine atoms to form Trichlorethylene (TCE), cis-1,2- dichloroehtene, trans-1,2-dichloroethene, 1,1-dichloroethylene, and vinyl chloride. Much like petroleum impacted sites the nature of solvents in the environment along with other information allows BE3 to develop a site-specific model.

For Brownfield sites, forensic analysis is used to develop the most effective and cost-efficient remedial methods. BE3 recently completed the remediation of solvents and groundwater at one of these adjacent sites. The analysis of the data showed positive results of a site contamination with chlorinated solvents after treatment with anaerobic bio-chem and zero valent iron (ABC+). There was a large initial drop from the zero valent iron and the level of the parent product (TCA) stabilized. , The data also showed that continued bioremediation was occurring as evidenced by the continued increase in chloroethane which was formed from the enhanced  biodegradation of dichloroethane after treatment. The results showed that a significant amount of Total Organic Carbon (TOC) was continuing to feed the bioremediation (dechlorination) process.  The unique use of release information, chemical data for the soils and groundwater chemistry, and site history allowed BE3 to select the correct formulation of treatment with bio-chem and iron to produce a rapid enhancement of solvent biodegradation.

Case Study: Contaminated Dry Cleaner Sites in New York State

BE3 used its knowledge of dry-cleaning processes to develop information for attorneys and other clients in cost recovery and responsible party cases.  For forensic assessments of dry cleaner sites BE3 typically focuses on the historical use and operational history of the property, including the timeframe when different types of dry cleaning machines were used. This is coupled with chemical fingerprinting and age dating of site contaminants. 

Dry cleaning has been around since the 1600s.  In the early days, garments were cleaned using turpentine spirits, camphor oil/ camphene, benzene, naphtha, kerosene, and white gasoline/gasoline. From the late 1920s until the late 1950s, Stoddard solvent was the predominant dry cleaning solvent in the United States. TCE was more widely used by the 1930s and by the early 1960s, perchloroethylene (PCE) was the most widely used dry cleaning solvent. 

Remnants from the use of these contaminants are typically present at sites even many years later.  BE3 has the experience and expertise to research, analyze and document an accurate history of the impacted site to establish responsible party timeline. 

For more information on the BE3 approach to environmental forensic investigations, contact us at 716-249-6880 or

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