Diesel Fuel Spill - Client Testimonial

From one of our clients:

"Folks at Nichols - I have a few things to say:

  1. One is thank you; and

So glad to have you on our team!  We call with emergency and within minutes you are on the road looking after our client’s best interests. Thank you, thank you, thank you!"

Nichols Environmental has helped this client... how can we help you too?

Naturally Occurring Toluene

Has anyone ever heard of naturally occurring toluene?

By: Anna Durante, Hydrogeologist

As we all know, toluene is a highly mobile, water-insoluble, toxic petroleum hydrocarbon compound that can be harmful to the environment/ public, so it’s pretty obvious why toluene can be problematic in even small concentrations (and explains why it has very strict guidelines). However, it is an organic chemical compound and specific ecological niches support the accumulation of biogenic toluene and therefore, can confound remedial investigations of petroleum impacts.

Common orientation for biogenic toluene:

  • Northern Environment;
  • Rich organic environment, like peat and wetlands;
  • Limited nutrients;
  • Low oxygen/anaerobic; and
  • Limited decomposition pathway present.

So, How do we identify toluene’s orientation?

  • The best way to identify if toluene is biogenic is by looking at the chromatography for the sample. Specifically, at the cymene values – biogenic toluene will have higher or differing concentrations, while petrogenic toluene has fixed concentrations for cymene in PHCs (ie. distinct fingerprint). Pyrene, cymene, benzaldehyde, etc. are common constituents you can see on the chromatogram to know if it’s biogenic, which gives biogenic toluene a highly specific chemical pattern;
  • If you plot toluene ratio vs. cymene ratio, there is a clear diagnostic ratio between petroleum and biogenic toluene (biogenic toluene has a higher ratio); and
  • If you look at the rest of the BTEX compounds (benzene, ethylbenzene, xylene) in an environmental setting, these concentrations will be very low or are not common at all in biogenic toluene. In PHCs, that is not normally the case.

So, how do we test for biogenic toluene?

  • The determination of the origin of toluene that is acceptable by regulatory bodies requires a scientifically credible demonstration using a forensic analytical approach, and forensic data interpretation;
  • Application of arson analysis methodology and forensic data interpretation methods are used to distinguish if toluene is biogenic or petrogenic. Arson analysis are conducted for crime scene investigators to provide legal proof for the presence of petroleum distillates, if present, in relation to arson investigations. The same method can be applied in the environmental field for the determination of toluene; and
  • A minimum of 10-20 samples would need to be collected in order to carry out this analysis, and high summer (July/ August) is the best time to collect these samples.

So, next time you are testing for PHCs in a wetland environment, and you see higher toluene values and low/ ND benzene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes values, consider paying close attention to the chromatography and plotting ratios for toluene vs. cymene to help determine the orientation of toluene before initiating a remediation plan.

Source: AGAT Tech Talks 2017, “Using an Effective Method for Differentiation, Where Does Toluene Come From: Petrogenic Families and Biogenic Loners?” By Dr. Richards, Chemistry Matters.

Note: Chemistry Matters is in the process of publishing a paper related to this topic, and is expected to be out Summer 2017.  A summary of the presentation is linked here.


Women in Science

#WomeninScience - Yes.  There is a hashtag for this, and a day even (February 11).

Thinking about this hashtag (or more appropriately a pound/number sign to us older folks) stirs a lot of emotions.  There is a little bit of anger and disgust, but also appreciation and pride.  Do you feel the same?  #WomeninScience have often been perceived as pioneers, and sometimes oddballs, going it “on their own” with an “anything you can do I can do better” attitude.  However, isn’t that the root of discovery?   Taking a risk?  Looking at something differently?  Accepting the challenge to “make it better”?  Many of my own role models have shown me that this is the way of science, regardless of your gender.

So, my advice to fellow #WomeninScience:  Yes, you will still experience some skepticism and blatant sexism, but don’t let that discourage you.  Instead, be a role model and lead by example, and one day you may be inspiration for another young woman.  - Tawnya Anderson, Senior Project Manager

New Employee - Justin Zunti

Nichols Environmental (Canada) Ltd. is pleased to have Mr. Justin Zunti join our Head Office in Edmonton, Alberta as an intermediate project manager.  Justin graduated from the University of Alberta with a B.Sc. and has six years of environmental consulting experience.


Contaminant Profile: PAHs

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and for short, PAHs. Do you want the technical description of carbon chains and bonds or perhaps something more relevant? Let’s go with relevant and why they are even something that environmental consultants look for. For starters, PAHs comprise a group of compounds that are probably most commonly associated with the use of creosote as a wood preservative, which is most often seen with treated railroad ties and power poles. However, they are also created through incomplete combustion of petroleum hydrocarbon products (i.e. fires).

So why is this a problem? PAHs are highly toxic to aquatic life as they tend to stick to sediment/soil and persist in the environment. A handful of PAHs are also considered carcinogens (cancer causing). So the next time someone offers you a pile of old rail ties that you want to line your garden with, maybe reconsider, or at least put a plastic liner between those ties and your soil!


Nichols Environmental has purchased and is licensed to operate a UAV/Drone for environmental and engineering uses.  Click here to learn more!



Head Office – Edmonton
17331 – 107th Avenue NW
Edmonton, Alberta T5S 1E5

Phone: (780) 484-3377
Fax: (780) 484-5093

Calgary Office
427 Manitou Road SE
Calgary, Alberta T2G 4C2

Phone: (403) 452-1820
Fax: (403) 984-8803

What's New

  • July 13, 2017
    From one of our clients: "Folks at Nichols - I have a few things to say: One is thank you; and YOU GUYS ROCK !! So glad to have you on our team!  We call with emergency and wit...
  • February 28, 2017
    Has anyone ever heard of naturally occurring toluene? By: Anna Durante, HydrogeologistAs we all know, toluene is a highly mobile, water-insoluble, toxic petroleum hydrocarbon compound that can ...

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