GCMS Evaluation and Training at Sydney Tar Ponds

The Sydney Tar Ponds was once a beautiful tidal estuary that over the last century was filled with runoff from coke ovens from now decommissioned steel mills. The 77-acre estuary is filled with a variety of coal-based contaminants and sludge including Naphthalene. Naphthalene is the most abundant component of coal tar and has been identified as a possible carcinogen. The Sydney Tar Ponds is considered to be one of the most toxic hazardous waste sites in North America.

KD Analytical Consulting, Inc. (KD) was contacted by ALL-Tech Environmental Services Cape Breton Ltd. to provide technical assistance for evaluating the INFICON HAPSITE ER (INFICON’s latest model) vs. the HAPSITE Smart GC/MS. In addition, KD was engaged to provide training on the GCMS model that would be selected during the foregoing evaluation.

KD mobilized almost immediately with their HAPSITE Smart instrument for comparison with the demo HAPSITE ER that ALL-Tech was in possession of. For the purposes of this evaluation, two volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were considered to be of primary interest—Benzene and Naphthalene.


Because of the coal-based contaminants and sludge at the Tar Ponds site, ALL-TECH was contracted to complete real-time monitoring with Photo Ionization Detectors (PIDs) to provide hazard data for both workers and the community of Sydney. The purpose of this evaluation was to determine whether the HAPSITE GC/MS (any model), could be employed for determination of chemicals found by the PID, as well as to respond to community odor complaints.


Upon arriving in Sydney, NS, Canada, it was revealed that the instrument was not initially set-up with methods specific to the sampling plan that ALL-TECH had set forth. This, combined with inadequate initial instrumental training by the rental company made it impossible for the qualified analysts from ALL-TECH to complete their evaluation without HAPSITE specific subject matter expert support. At the time of KDs arrival, the HAPSITE was on the verge of being dismissed from the Tar Ponds Project altogether.

ALL-TECH and KD personnel worked to calibrate the HAPSITE ER. Due to the advancements made by INFICON, the calibration of the instrument was completed with little trouble. The HAPSITE ER allows for instrument calibrations based on sample volume, rather than sample time. This allows for highly accurate calibrations that generate reproducible results and a deviation range as low as +/- 20% of the injected quality control sample. The aptitude of ALL-TECH personnel, combined with the ease of use of the HAPSITE ER, allowed the instrument to be sent out to Sydney Tar Pond testing sites almost immediately for evaluation.

Colin from ALL-TECH and Shaun from KD Testing Fence-line Monitoring
Colin from ALL-TECH and Shaun from KD Testing Fence-line Monitoring

Through the evaluation process, there were multiple positives and potential deficiencies noticed. Though the HAPSITE ER was easily portable for short distances only, and the sample volume necessary for the part per billion detection limits required on this project impacted battery life due to the extremely cold temperatures (2 C) in Canada. These issues were easily eliminated with the use of power inverters and vehicles for moving from one sample location to another. This provided heat to eliminate additional power pull on the battery during temperature ramping as well as the opportunity to trickle charge the battery between samples and during temperature ramping. Also, to eliminate analyst time in the cold environment, a PID tripod was utilized to allow for a consistent sampling location.

HAPSITE ER with Tri-pod Mount
HAPSITE ER with Tripod Mount

Also during the evaluation period, the ability of the HAPSITE to address odor complaints was able to be evaluated. With multiple remediation projects happening in the direct vicinity of ALL-TECHs office area, a faint odor was apparent. The HASPITE ER was immediately deployed and able to rule out any of the active remediation sites as the source of this particular odor. In fact, a different, unaccounted for odor source was able to be found as the cause of this odor. This action was just one determining factor for ALL-TECH to present this technology to their client as a main tool in the evaluation of air quality around the Sydney Tar Ponds remediation site.

At the conclusion of these actions, ALL-TECH utilized a rental HAPSITE Smart from KD to evaluate the differences between the two models and chose the HAPSITE ER for use on the Sydney Tar Ponds site. The HAPSITE ER was chosen for multiple reasons. These reasons included the volume controlled sampling which provided less uncertainty in the final concentration of analytes found, the additional heating capabilities allowing higher boiling point chemicals to be identified, and the ability of the HAPSITE ER to complete thermal desorption samples in addition to responsive on-site sampling.

KD has continued their support for ALL-TECH with assistance in setting up quality control plans, budgeting assistance, and subject matter expert advice utilizing KDs 4-Tier Support System.

Special thanks to Colin Mac Isaac, Darren Lawless (ALL-TECH), and Shaun Vibert (KD) for assistance on this project.

ALL-TECH chose to use the INFICON HAPSITE ER Gas Chromatograph/Mass Spectrometer (GC/MS) due to the battery operated portability and enhanced ability to test for semi-volatile compounds including naphthalene, which was the major concern. The cleanup plan has taken decades to establish, and local residents are concerned with disturbing the contaminated soil, thereby releasing hazardous chemicals into the air. The HAPSITE ER can be deployed on a moment’s notice to test for components of any odor concerns, and possible chemical releases during remediation. There are many chemical monitoring stations around the Tar Ponds. These stations are monitored using a portable wireless detector (PID). The PID can detect volatile organic chemicals (VOCs), but cannot easily identify individual components. The HAPSITE ER can identify what chemicals are being detected by the PID, and it is much more reliable in determining the safety of the employees and residents in the area through the ability to quantify the components found. The HAPSITE ER can determine the presence or absence of chemicals such as naphthalene down to the low parts per trillion, therefore, suitable for indoor or outdoor air monitoring.

Fence Line Monitoring with HAPSITE ER
Fence Line Monitoring with HAPSITE ER

KD Scientist spent two weeks training ALL-TECH personnel, developing methods, and SOP’s for air, liquid and solid sampling using the INFICON HAPSITE ER. This training was conducted on-site, so as to provide the best conditions for “real world” training. KD Analytical continues to support ALL-TECH personnel with this on-going project.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s