Contamination of soil from petroleum spills is an ongoing problem that threatens to adversely affect the environment and the health of the people in it, so rapid testing of sites is a pressing issue. However, with laboratory samples and results requiring at least a number of days turn around, particularly in remote locations, rapid analysis is not usually possible. RemScan is a self-contained, hand-held hydrocarbon contamination testing device designed to address this problem. Recently released on the US market, the world first device developed by CSIRO Australia and its industry partner, Ziltek, is capable of testing many hundred samples a day, providing data on the spot, within seconds, and completely without the need of a laboratory.

Using infra-red spectroscopy (a technique that uses infra-red light to determine what molecules are present by measuring the frequency of the light absorbed and identifying molecules by reading that frequency) the RemScan device analyzes and characterizes results within 15 seconds and displays them on the screen of an attached PDA (Personal Digital Assistant). The data is also stored on an SD card and can be downloaded to a computer as a Microsoft Excel file.

There is no need for extraction of a soil sample for testing. The user simply prepares the soil area to be tested by tamping down with a tool supplied for this purpose, or by using a trowel or similar implement. The RemScan device is then placed on soil, and the trigger pulled. The resulting concentration is displayed on the PDA screen.

Particularly useful for the quantitative measurement of diesel, oil, and crude products in soil, it can also be used as a screening tool for lighter fuels such as aviation fuel and gasoline. Similarly, it can be used on drill core cuttings to determine in-field preemptive analysis of potential hydrocarbon content.

With the number of remote and largely inaccessible sites growing as the oil exploration and extraction industries seek new oil fields, and as the infrastructure of heavy industry follows them in, tools like the RemScan should prove invaluable at providing rapid response to potential hazards without having to rely on distant laboratory services.

Ziltek recently engaged the services of an independent testing organization to test the accuracy and usability of the technology. Results of this study are to be published this month at the Ninth International Conference on Remediation of Chlorinated and Recalcitrant Compounds in Monterey, California.

The Ziltek video below shows the RemScam in operation.

Sources: CSIRO, Ziltek