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Position specific isotope analysis: the ultimate tool in environmental forensics?

Gauchotte-Lindsay, C and Connal, G and O'Sullivan, G. and Kalin, R M (2010) Position specific isotope analysis: the ultimate tool in environmental forensics? In: Environmental Forensics: Proceedings of the 12th ASME Summer Bioengineering Conference. Royal Society of Chemistry, pp. 60-70. ISBN 978-1-84755-258-7

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Abstract

Here we propose a 'leap foward' with the application of Position Specific Isotope Analysis to Environmental Forensics, a topic which has a large un-tapped potential for biogeochemical / biodegradation studies. Compound specific isotope analysis (CSIA) is a relatively new methods in Enviornmental Forenscis (figuring out where the contamination in the environment comes from). PSIA could uncover / unlock the questions that CSIA has opened up and leap-frog our understanding of the fate of contaminants in the environment. Isotopic fractionation is limited to reactions at the site or bond in the contaminant molecule associated with the rate-limiting biodegradation step. These fractionation effects are diluted in 'whole molecule' CSIA by the presence of non-reacting carbon atoms. Intramolecular isotope ratios however would be sensitive to such fractionation effects and could be used to determine the pathways and mechanism of degradation. Leveraging the resources of Prof. Kalin's EPSRC funded Platform Grant therefore provides the 'base-line real-world' access to sites and samples for this proposed 'Speculative Engineering' research, thereby allowing the research proposed here to solely focus on solving the question: Is PSIA useful for Environmental Forensics applications?Current convention would say that PSIA is impracticable for the 'real world', however we challenge this and firmly believe in the potential of this approach. There are many other areas of research that may benefit from a concerted speculative research effort on the Environmental Forensic application of PSIA, the results of which are certain to give some insight into the biogeochemical cycling of contaminant organic compounds released to the environment.