Oak Ridge National Laboratory


News Release

Media Contact: Ron Walli (wallira@ornl.gov)
Communications and External Relations


ORNL technology gets nod from EPA

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., April 19, 2002 — Prospects for cleaning up contaminated sites around the country are better because of a technology and procedure developed at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory and recently accepted by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The technology, which consists of direct sampling and analysis of volatile organic compounds in water, soil, gas and air, requires little if any sample preparation and yields results in three to five minutes. Compared to conventional approaches, the method saves time, money and allows more sites to be tested - and ultimately decontaminated.

"EPA's official acceptance of this method should accelerate its adoption by the regulatory community," said Roger Jenkins of the Chemical Sciences Division. "Before that happened, there would have been only modest interest in using this procedure to support on-site characterization and remediation."

With direct sampling ion trap mass spectrometry, the person conducting the test introduces sample materials directly into an ion trap mass spectrometer through a simple interface. No chromatographic separation is required, and the response of the instrument is nearly instantaneous. EPA's new Method 8265, developed by ORNL, embodies this technique.

"The implication of the EPA's having made this direct sampling and analysis methodology an official method is that regulators are now much more likely to accept this new rapid method performed in the field as being 'just as good' as a standard fixed laboratory procedure," said Marcus Wise, a scientist in ORNL's Chemical Sciences Division and one of the developers of the instrument and methodology. "With the budget constraints, it has become increasingly important to develop and deploy innovative technologies for faster and less expensive approaches to restore the environment."

Tri-Corders Environmental of McLean, Va., has licensed the technology from ORNL and is building transportable instruments for on-site use. Environmental and analytical companies will benefit, as will the government and private sectors. Perhaps most importantly, researchers at ORNL note, the public will benefit because sites will ultimately get cleaned up more quickly, thus lowering both risk and cost to the public.

Aside from the speed afforded by this process, the new method allows for samples, such as water, to be analyzed without having to remove them from the site. That simplifies testing and lowers the cost. And the new test protocol eliminates the problems associated with drawing samples, shipping them, and logging those samples and results.

"When you have to move samples off site, there are just that many more opportunities to make mistakes," Jenkins said.

In addition to environmental screening, a number of direct screening methods are being explored for detecting hidden explosives, chemical and biological warfare agents on the battlefield, and contaminants in food and agricultural products, Wise said.

ORNL's efforts to develop the technology and methodology began in the late 1980s through a Department of Defense project. In recent years, DOE also has funded some of the work that has resulted in EPA Method 8265 (http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/hazwaste/test/new-meth.htm).

Researchers playing key roles in developing the technology and working with EPA to get it accepted were Marc Wise, Mike Guerin, Cyril Thompson and Roosevelt Merriweather.

ORNL is a Department of Energy multiprogram research facility managed by UT-Battelle.