Environmental forensics

Isotopic signatures enable us to discriminate between several pollution events.

In many contaminated sites liable polluters cannot be identified, possibly because several sources of contamination have to be considered. Most chemicals have a highly specific isotopic fingerprint, because manufacturers have used slightly different production techniques or different synthesis materials. Therefore, polluters can often be identified using isotopic forensic techniques and material from different contaminant manufacturers can be identified.

Untersuchungsgebiet in BitterfeldBy measuring the isotopic signatures within a complex environment, multiple polluters (i.e. multiple sources) will be clearly revealed. As a consequence, proportions of the contaminant pool can be attributed to the multiple parties by tracking the isotopic signatures from the multiple origins.

Complications in this fingerprinting concept could arise from potential isotope fractionation (via biodegradation), or from sources that occasionally have identical isotope signatures. Therefore, qualified experts must be consulted to develop and interpret forensic investigations of contaminated sites.