Characterization and identification of a "mystery" oil spill from Quebec (1999)

Z Wang, M Fingas, L Sigouin
Journal of Chromatography. A 2001 February 16, 909 (2): 155-69
This paper describes a case study in which advanced chemical fingerprinting and data interpretation techniques were used to characterize the chemical compositions and determine the source of an unknown spilled oil from Quebec. On 28 February 1999, significant amounts of oil was reported on the river banks of St. Laurence River in front of a company named "Thermex" (in a town - Beauharnois, Quebec, about 50 km northwest of Montreal). The spilled oil was suspected to be released from a nearby factory. In response to this specific site investigation needs, a tiered analytical approach using GC-MS and GC-flame ionization detection was applied. A variety of diagnostic ratios of "source-specific marker" compounds, in particular isomers of biomarkers and alkylated series of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons within the same alkylation groups, were determined and analyzed. The hydrocarbon analysis results reveal the following: (1) the spilled oil is very "specific", and is significantly different from most crude oils in chemical composition; (2) the oil in samples come from the same source, however, the spill sample 2569 was identified to contain a small amount (approximately 10%) of diesel; (3) the spilled oil was relatively "fresh", its chemical composition has not undergone significant alteration yet; (4) the spilled oil showed unusually high concentration of the US Environmental Protection Agency priority polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). The "Pyrogenic Index" values were determined to be as high as 0.11-0.13, significantly higher than crude oils (<0.010) and heavy Bunker type fuels (0.015-0.060). This indicates significant contribution of PAH composition from pyrogenic components; (5) biomarkers were also detected, but their concentrations were unusually low in comparison to most crude oils.

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