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Environmental Forensic Analysis Using Enhanced Petroleum Hydrocarbon Testing | Eurofins TestAmerica Laboratories

Analytical Approach to Enhanced Petroleum Hydrocarbon (SHC, PAH, aPAH and Biomarkers)

Conventional lists of chemical compounds in U.S. EPA methods do not include the important constituents of petroleum and refined petroleum products.  As a result, TestAmerica modifies U.S. EPA SW 846 methodologies to provide the data necessary for chemical fingerprinting for an environmental forensic investigation.  Enhancements include:

  • expanded targeted analyte lists to characterize and differentiate petroleum;
  • sufficient analytical sensitivity to measure the low levels that are needed;
  • selectivity to minimize matrix interference and false positives;
  • applicability to a wide variety of matrices including oil, NAPL, coal tar, MGP oil,  water, soil, sediment, and tissue. 

The International Standard for Oil Spill Identification, 2002 SINTEF Method, recommends a tiered testing and data treatment approach for oil release investigations. The first tier is the SHC testing of samples from the suspected release and also the impacted samples.  If these samples are not a match, these samples can be eliminated from further testing. If there is any doubt, the process should continue through the next tier of testing for biomarkers and PAHs. Data evaluation and statistical analysis are then performed by an environmental forensic chemist to evaluate the oil release.

Tier I – SHC by GC/FID

For the SHC Tier 1, TestAmerica employs a high resolution gas chromatography/ flame ionization detector [GC/FID] based on US EPA SW 846 Method 8015 for the analysis of the total distribution of the hydrocarbons from C8 to C40 as well as selected isoprenoids, pristane and phytane. The method provides for a whole oil gas chromatographic analysis or chemical fingerprint of the sample.

Tier II - SHC, PAHs, aPAHs and Biomarkers by GC/MS

TestAmerica’s analytical approach for PAHs and aPAHs utilizes  a  high  resolution gas  chromatography /mass spectrometer [GC/MS] based on US EPA SW 846 Method 8270 [modified].  This method also provides for a whole oil analysis or chemical fingerprint of the samples. The identification of the calibrated target compounds is based on the detection of a peak at the appropriate retention time, except for the alkylated PAHs.  For the alkylated PAHs, the parent response factor is used for the concentration calculation of the alkylated PAHs. Quantification of the target compounds is based on their response relative to their associated internal standard.  SHC analysis provides quantitative analysis of individual n-alkanes and selected isoprenoids. 

Biomarkers can be detected in low quantities (low to sub ppm range) in the presence of other hydrocarbons using SW 846 Method 8270M SIM. Estimation of concentrations for biomarker compounds is achieved by using the response factor from a representative standard.  TestAmerica uses characterized crude oils, such as Alaskan North Slope, in its assessment of system performance and uses project specific crude oils as analytical comparison oils for the fingerprinting evaluation of field samples, if requested.  The method is also modified to include the PAHs which are not a part of Method 8270 list.  PAHs and their alkylated homologs can be performed simultaneously with the biomarker analysis.

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