Thursday, March 20, 2014

Electronic Chain of Custody and Matching Bar Code Sample Bottle Labels. Arriving Summer 2014!

Electronic Chain of Custody and Matching 
Bar Code Sample Bottle Labels. 
Arriving Summer 2014!

"Innovation comes from people meeting up in the hallways 
or calling each other at 10:30 at night with a new idea, or 
because they realized something that shoots holes in how 
we've  been thinking about a problem" - Steve Jobs

In our endless - and I do mean endless - pursuit of improving our application, we have begun work on the "next big thing." We call it our electronic chain of custody (ECOC). I mentioned this concept about a year ago and now we have begun programming work on this new feature.

Here's how it works: The project manager defines the project sampling scope, just as they have done in the past. Once the scope is agreed upon by the pertinent parties, the scope will be finalized, and at that point sample bottle labels with unique identifying bar codes can be printed along with an associated preliminary chain of custody. Once sample bottles are filled and sample bottle labels with the bar code are applied, the ECOC can be completed online using a laptop, tablet, or cell phone. At this point, any changes to the sample IDs can be made along with the sample dates, times, special notes etc. Once the ECOC is complete, the data file is automatically e-mailed to the respective laboratory. The lab can then sync this data file with its sample receiving system without having to manually enter sample data from a paper chain of custody. Once the sample bottle arrives at the laboratory the next day, the sample bottles are scanned in using a bar code reader, and the relevant data from that sample is finalized as received within the lab's data reporting system.

The benefits of the system for laboratories are fourfold. 1) It saves labs time and money on data entry, as all data is entered by the field personnel while in the field. 2) It minimizes the opportunity for data entry errors; sampling data is only entered one time. 3) It allows the lab to know exactly which samples are arriving the next day, allowing for staffing and equipment planning. 4) This bar coding ECOC feature is tied to our current sample project management application and allows a smooth transition from project planning to sampling to lab receiving and reporting, and then to completing the final reports with all the tables, charts, graphs, maps, and contouring needed. The entire application from planning to reporting can be uniquely customized and licensed for use directly by the laboratories themselves and can be re-offered to their clients as a customer service enhancement and source of additional lab revenue if desired. This allows the lab to take data reporting to the next level and beyond. Don't just give them the data - allow them to complete the entire report.

If you represent a laboratory and are interested in talking about this new application, please contact Russell Schindler at 231-218-7955 or by e-mail at schindler@sampleserve.com.

- Russell Schindler

Groundwater Elevation and Contaminant Levels, Correlation, or Causation.How can you tell?

Groundwater Elevation and Contaminant
Levels, Correlation, or Causation.   
How can you tell?

"The obvious is that which is never seen until someone 
expresses it simply." -Kahlil Gibran

Over the years I've heard a lot of explanations regarding groundwater elevations and subsequent increases and/or decreases in contaminant levels and the presence and disappearance of free product. I've heard people argue that increasing water levels increase contamination, and I've also heard the opposite. Some people believe that increasing water levels causes free product to disappear and that decreasing levels cause it to re-appear (which is counter-intuitive to a lay person). The question or debate is (all other things being equal): does groundwater elevation have an effect on contaminant levels? Furthermore, does groundwater elevation have an effect on the presence or absence of free product? These are a question of correlation or causation.

I've been doing this kind of work for about 26 years now, and I've learned enough to know that it all depends on the specific site and even the specific well.

Webster's Dictionary defines correlation as: "a relation existing between phenomena or things or between mathematical or statistical variables which tend to vary, be associated, or occur together in a way not expected on the basis of chance alone." Webster's defines causation as: "the relationship between an event or situation and a possible reason or cause."

Determining correlation, in most cases, is pretty simple. We tend to use graphs to visually plot and identify correlations. In the example to the right, you can see a strong correlation between the two variables; however, the graph implies a causation, which is ridiculous. Organic food doesn't cause autism. It was Mark Twain who said, "There are lies, damned lies and statistics." Determining causation requires a bit more thought and reason, and can be tricky to plot on a graph.

With regards to groundwater
Graph A
elevation and contamination, in Graph A you can see that groundwater contamination seems to go up and down in concert with the groundwater elevation. This is a strong correlation which implies causation. However, in Graph B, the correlation appears to be the exact opposite. Contaminant levels seem to go down with increasing groundwater elevations. The two causation conclusions implied by the graphs seem to
Graph B
conflict with each other. One of the interesting things about the data from these two wells is that they are taken from the same site across the same date range.

The explanation for the differing correlations is that one well is located in a source area and the higher groundwater elevations expose the groundwater to remaining residual source material in the soils and capillary fringe. This exposure thus causes increased contaminant leaching and migration to the groundwater. The down gradient well is subject to the dilution effects of the increase in clean water entering the aquifer at that well location.

The point of this article is not to argue the significance of these effects or whether there is any other explanation as to the cause, but instead to illustrate that simply visualizing the data correlations is important in evaluating and eventually determining causation. In this example case, seeing the correlation of the source well increase as compared to the down gradient well decrease, made it obvious source soil material existed. It was determined that the presence of existing source soils needed to be investigated and removed, which it was.

In the case of the free product, being able to see the interaction of groundwater elevations and presence of absence of free product is also important. One often overlooked but equally important feature is the intersection of the groundwater
Graph C
interface within the well's screened interval. If the screen is submerged completely beneath the groundwater interface, free product cannot flow into the well, giving the unaware project manager the impression that free product is not present at this well location. In the Graph C, the black line represents the top of the well, the orange line represents the bottom of the well and the blue line represents the groundwater elevation. The only opportunity for product to flow into this well is on 11-21-2008, when water elevation was beneath the top of the screened interval. In the event that this well had free product, you would see a red line on top of the blue water table elevation line. These types of graphs are quick and effective at illustrating information like this.

If you have high contaminant concentrations in groundwater, you may have free product in your source soils, but if your screens are too deep, then you will not see that free product and may actually think you don't have any. I've seen this mistake many, many times. These types of visual graphs quickly and effectively illustrate whether your screen placement prevents the identification of the presence of free product. Additionally, the correlation of groundwater elevation, up or down, and the presence of free product can also be quickly identified.

Good graphics allow a project manager to not only determine correlations and thereby conclude causation; it also allows a good project manager to convey that information and conclusions in a simple fashion to a client or a regulator.

All these graphics can be generated using existing site data in about 3-5 seconds using SampleServe's groundwater project management application. Using traditional methods such as Excel would take several hours.

To learn more about our groundwater project management application and how you can use it for your own projects go to SampleServe.com.

- Russell Schindler

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Game Changer - Remediation May Be Over Rated


"You can't help but... with 20/20 hindsight, go back and say,  
Look, had we done something different, we probably  
wouldn't be facing what we are facing today."
- Norman Schwarzkopf

Selecting a remedial approach can be a complicated task. The process is based on identifying desired clean-up goals, sensitive issues that could affect a remediation strategy (e.g. proximity to drinking water wells, surface waters, other sensitive receptors or public perception/relations), and costs. Each site presents different decisions and uncertainties regarding remediation options. However, the process of deciding which corrective action to take should be relatively the same at each site. The four main steps are 1) delineation, 2) risk evaluation, 3) feasibility, and 4) cost.  The individual parameters and details of each step will differ for each site, but the process will be the same.The companies that understand the process and also work to keep it simple end up selecting the more effective and least costly solutions.

When estimating remedial action costs among proposed alternatives, the entire cost of each remedial action alternative should be included costs for mobilization, equipment, treatment, disposal, site restoration, energy, on-going monitoring, periodic regulatory reporting, and operation and maintenance. Costs should be limited to those incurred by the party implementing the remedy and should not include costs associated with regulatory agencies or any perceived property value impact.Estimates should provide for a relative comparison of costs between all the feasible alternatives. Alternatives that are not feasible should not be included. These estimated costs should be detailed and accurate, typically within 30 percent to 50 percent (plus or minus) of actual cost if the alternative were to be implemented.

Costs that will be incurred in the future, as part of the remedial action, should be identified and noted for the year in which they will occur. The distribution of costs over time often will be a critical factor in making tradeoffs between capital intensive technologies (a remediation system now) and less capital-intensive technologies (long-term monitored natural attenuation). When estimating future costs, a discount rate is used to account for the "time value of money", usually between 3 percent and 7.5 percent per year.In other words, a dollar spent today is worth more than a dollar spent three years from now.This will vary depending on assumptions regarding inflation/deflation.

A net present value andfuture worth analysis must be performed to estimate the current value of future costs. Future costs are discounted relative to the current year. This allows the cost of remedial action alternatives to be compared on the basis of a single figure in the current year. One way to look at it is if today you put that money in a theoretical bank account that paid interest over time, and the original amount plus the interest it would earn would be sufficient to cover all future costs of the remedial action alternative. By using the "net present value" evaluation, you're basically reverse estimating what your interest rate would be on the money in this theoretical bank account.

The "Game Changer" point I want to make regarding the remedial alternative selection process above is that the net present value "discount rate" used by most remediation firms is in most cases much too low. The discount rate range mentioned above doesn't account for the ever increasing rate of technological advancements related to remedial action.  As with all technology, costs are decreasing. Clean-up technologies are improving and cost to install the typical "off the shelf" remediation system is lower than it was 10 years ago, especially when accounting for inflation. Risk assessment science and exposure assumptions are, for the most part, improving as the science of risk assessment improves. This area of science can be swayed somewhat by shifting political winds but the general trend is towards allowing for more cost effective monitored solutions.Monitoring well sampling and laboratory analysis costs are on the decline because of the advent of third party sampling companies and advances in laboratory technologies. The price for a BTEX analysis is roughly 30 to 40 percent less now than we paid in the '90s, in straight dollars, without adjusting for inflation. Adjust for inflation and its well less than half of what was being paid in the mid '90s. Regulatory reporting costs from monitoring and O&M activities are on the decline because of intelligent software and reporting automation. Just as sure as the price of a computer or a cell phone has dropped over time (while the function and power of the devices has improved), so has environmental remediation science and technology.

Many feasibility assessments then and now are flawed in their long-term costs assumptions. Thelong-term costs associated with limited remediation and/or monitored natural attenuation are typically exaggerated. Conversely, remediation system time frames, system mechanical reliability and costs to operate are often understated. Waiting for environmental science to continue to advance while watching Mother Nature do what she does, is often a perfectly viable (and least costly) remedial alternative.

The corrective action feasibility analysis described above doesn't have to be a one-time process either.For long-term ongoing projects and even projects in the midst of on-going remediation, a reevaluation of the remedial alternatives and the "time value of money" costs associated with each option should be re-conducted on a periodic basis. Just because you have spent money on a system doesn't mean you should continue spending money on a system, especially if it's operating below its performance projections and above its proposed costs. In that event, it might be the perfect time for a re-evaluation. The outcome of the re-evaluation could be to "re-affirm" the continued operation of the system.Making the affirmative choice to continue is more desirable than having it just happen by default.

If you would like to talk about how we can precisely dial in your long term monitoring costs with a long term contract, I can be reached atschindler@sampleserve.com or at (231) 218-7955.
-- Russell

12-Volt Stainless Steel Centrifugal Pumps - A Comparison

 
"Beware of little expenses; a small leak will sink a great ship."
-- Benjamin Franklin

One of our specialties at SampleServe.com is sampling groundwater. As such, we have used a variety of types of pumps in a multitude of makes and models. In this article I am going to tell you about two 12-volt stainless steel centrifugal pumps I've used and explain why I like one over the other.

The two pumps I am reviewing are the Geotech SS Geosub 12 VDC Sampling Pump and the Proactive Stainless Steel Hurricane® XL.  I am not aware of any other makers of "stainless steel" environmental 12-volt pumps sold in the US. There are plastic 12-volt pumps; however, plastic pumps are not part of my evaluation.

I've had the opportunity to use both of these pumps at length. I used theGeosub Pump recently on a large project in Ohio and sampled approximately 30 - 40 wells with the pump. The pump performed fine without any maintenance or operational problems. It was easy to decontaminate and appeared well built and sturdy.  It is slightly larger than the Hurricane XL and came with 200' of wire and was rated as being able to pump water from up to 200' below grade.  Water at the site was in the range of 30' to 40' below grade so we never tested the maximum depth on this pump.

One of the issues, or draw backs I had with the pump was the Geotech SS Geosub Controller that is used with the Geosub Pump. To operate the pump in the field, we had to have a car battery connected to a 12-volt AC inverter which was connected to the 110-volt power cord of the Geosub Controller convertor, which then powers it back down to the 12-volt pumps operating range. It seemed like an unnecessary and energy consuming step. 12-volts, up to 110-volts, back down to 12-volts.

Although the controller was mounted in a pelican case and was sturdy, it was also overly large and heavy.  One final issue with the controller was during initial pump start up, the pumps digital default speed is set at full speed.  Upon starting the pump, after a few wells, we learned to immediately throttle the pump down or deal with the rush or water. While sampling, the controller was able to dial down to very low flow rates and was also able to maintain precise flow rates without any noticeable flow rate fluctuation.

The Geosub Pump and the Geosub Controller are sold separately. I was recently quoted a price of $2,087.00 for the Geosub Pump and $2,195.00 for the Geosub Controller, for a total price of $4,282.00.  You will also have to purchase a 12-volt AC invertor for approximately $80.00.

The Hurricane XL is an updated version of the older Hurricane pump of which I own 2. The difference between the old version and the new version are the following.  The new version has a rounded top which minimizes well hang ups when pulling the pump out of the well. The easily replaceable motor has also been redesigned. I have not used the XL, however the differences between the versions are inconsequential in my critique of the pump.

I've used the Hurricane extensively and have sampled hundreds of wells using the pump.The pump has always performed fine with minimal maintenance or operational problems. The pump comes with a field replaceable motor the can be exchanged in seconds. The motors cost approximately $250.00 apiece and if maintained properly can last for a couple hundred wells. The pumps are easy to decontaminate and are well built and simple.The Hurricane XL comes with 150' of wire and is rated as being able to pump water from up to 150' below grade. I have personally used the pump at sites with a depth of water of 85' and had no problem maintaining decent flow. I have not used the pump at a site with water greater than 85' below grade so I've never tested the maximum depth on this pump.

The Proactive Low Flow Controller With Power Booster 2.5 XL "LCD" is straight forward and simple to use. You simply connect the controller to a 12-volt car battery and the other end to the pump. A dial controls the flow with the voltage output to the pump displayed on the digital screen. The controller is slightly smaller than a six-pack of beer (cans), mounted in its own metal case and is light, sturdy and durable.

The controller is able to dial down to very low flow rates, however the controller periodically mysteriously fluctuates flow up and down by 10% to 20% sometimes making maintaining a precise flow rate difficult. Having clean good battery connections minimizes this problem.

The Hurricane XL Pump and the 2.5 XL "LCD" Controllers are sold separately. I was recently quoted a price of $1,645.00 for the Hurricane XL Pump and $860.00 for the 2.5 XL "LCD" Controller, for a total price of $2,505.00.  No 12-volt AC inverter needed.

Both pumps performed for the tasks required, however, my favored pump based on price and simplicity of use is the Hurricane XL. It's less than 58% of the cost of the Geosub and is less cumbersome and simpler to use. I am not affiliated with either of these companies other than I have bought 2 Proactive Hurricanes pumps and rented the Geosub. 

If you have a opinion different than mine, I would love to hear about it. I can be reached at schindler@sampleserve.com or at 231-218-7955.

-- Russell 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

There Is An App For That

There Is An App For That
 
I recently attended a meeting related to new technology and new start up businesses.  Although it wasn't exclusively a gathering for software developers, the primary topics 
discussed seemed to be in the area of software and "applications" (Apps) people were developing.  I must say it was one of the more interesting meetings I've ever been to.  It was like looking into the future. I felt like I was in a room full of future Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, and truth be told, I probably was.

Anyway, what I took away from that meeting was that if you think "Apps" are just a fad and they will eventually be going away, you couldn't be more wrong. As a matter of fact, Apps are going to be creeping into every aspect of our lives. Many of you reading this article will likely lose your job to an App at some point in the future.  There is some amazing stuff going on out there.  One of the presenters at the meeting I was at had built an App that could design an entire house based on the parameters you selected for that house. You just input the basics parameters like how many bedrooms you wanted, size of the rooms, number of bathrooms, etc... There were lots of input parameters, but when you finished, it would spit out about 25 different floor plans to select from (more were possible) and all the mechanical (electrical, plumbing, etc...) details, specs and materials that would be needed to build that house. It could do this in just a couple minutes once you input all the parameters. It appeared to be a very user friendly App too that was designed for the lay person.  No Engineer, Architect or Auto-CAD needed. Probably need an Engineer or Architect to sign off on the final plans, but you don't need one to draw them up.  What used to take weeks and cost $10,000-$15,000 or more, can now be done in about an hour.  He has plans on expanding into commercial type buildings next.  Don't ever think you aren't replaceable at some point.

This brings me to the SampleServe.com App.  Our App is similar to the App I mentioned above in that it automates what a lot of the Project Engineers/Geologists currently do on a daily basis.  If you have a few minutes you can view a 3-minute slideshow explaining the App here.  

The overall impact our App, and the likely eventual development of other Apps, will have on the environmental industry remains to be seen.  After all, it can do in about 2 minutes what currently takes the typical Project Manager and Auto-CAD Technician about 2 days and a couple thousand dollars to do.  It's hard to compete with that. 

As with all technology, the innovators and the early adapters will benefit the most with the late adapters and laggards being the ones looking for the new job in a new industry. So where are you on this curve?

-Russell

Multi-Parameter Meter Comparison Update - In-Situ SmarTroll


Multi-Parameter Meter Comparison Update - In-Situ SmarTroll
 
The ultimate promise of technology is to make us master of a world that we command by the push of a button.
-Volker Grassmuck

Some of you may recall, back in April of 2013 I wrote an article comparing many of the various multi-parameter meters on the market.  You can view that article here.  Well, at the end of that article, I mentioned my "thoughts and dreams" about what I would like to see in a good multi-meter in the future.  Shortly after that article was posted, I was sent a link to a webpage for a new meter that very closely resembled my "dream machine". The link took me to a webpage by In-Situ.  You can follow that link here.

If you will recall my favorite meter back in April 2013 was the AquaRead 900.  I still think it is a good meter and would still recommend it; however, I think the SmarTroll is now my new favorite meter and here is why. The SmarTroll is the smallest of the meters by a significant margin, even smaller than the AquaRead.  The flow cell comes in at less than 100ccs which can have a significant effect on reducing overall sampling time for some wells. It appears to be well-made sturdy meter. I've only used the SmarTroll on a few projects but they were big projects with lots of wells.  It performed very good with no issues.  The unit operates with the assistance of an iPod, iPhone or iPad, which is connected wirelessly to the probe. The software application that connects the device to probe can be downloaded from the Apple store however the device I used had it pre-installed on an iPod that came with the rental unit. The software is simple to use and data collected from the iPod device can be e-mailed at sample completion. The software is nice in that it can be easily programmed by the user for sampling frequency and stabilization parameters and will automatically color parameters that have stabilized as green and parameters that are not yet stabilized as red. It will then give an audible sound when all parameters have stabilized.

My only 2 complaints about the software are; 1) once you start the sampling process, it does not take the first reading until after the first time interval has been completed (e.g. if you set it to collect data every 5 minutes, it won't take the first reading for 5 minutes once you hit start). I would like to see it take an initial reading right away and then start sample at the selected frequency.  2) Once you have selected the sampling interval frequency, you can't change the frequency unless you start a whole new sampling process.  There are many occasions where sampling frequency may need to be adjusted due to drawdown and flow rate adjustments. It would be nice to adjust sampling frequency on the fly mid-sampling. These are simply software changes and are relatively simple to complete and update.    

Probably the biggest drawback of this meter is the lack of a turbidity sensor. If turbidity is a required parameter at your sites, and it is at most sites we sample, this can cause for a little extra work. Turbidity has to be measured using a second, non-connected turbidity meter. The iPod software allows for manual entry of turbidity data and calculates and color codes it just like the other parameters. Unfortunately this means you can't just set the meter and forget it. You have to manually measure and manually enter the turbidity reading at each time interval. This in practice is not as big an issue as one might think and it only slightly impacts my opinion of this meter, however having turbidity built in would complete my love of this meter.

Calibration and setup of the SmarTroll is easy and the technical and sales support staff at In-Situ is very good and helpful.  A new SmarTroll was quoted to me recently with, meter, cables, the iPod reader, flow cell and case for $4,300. This makes it tied as the least expensive and is currently the smallest meter and flow through cell on the market. Keep in mind you will also have to purchase a turbidity meter if that is a required parameter. As I mentioned this is my new favorite meter and we will be adding them to our inventory.  I'm not affiliated with In-Situ in any way other than as a customer. I'm simply offering you my experience, perspective and opinion.

-Russell

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

An Application that is Changing an Industry

An Application that is Changing an Industry
 


Our Application Has Improved...Again.

What's improved?
Several things have been added and improved.  
The two major items are: 
2) Iso-chemical contour maps, also completed in seconds.   




Who would use this application?

Who is hesitant to use us?
  • Old School Project Managers. I've talked with many Project Managers about our software and a few of them (not all) have asked me "How am I supposed to make any money if your software is generating the report in seconds?". To me the answer is simple: increase your market share through improved efficiency and better service and thus increase your profit margin. If you can simultaneously cut the price for the client and also increase your profit margin, isn't that the right answer for long term business success? 
  • People that are resistant to change and technology. Now I'm not saying that all technological advancements are for everyone, but I do feel comfortable saying that the environmental industry is pretty much a technology industry. The technology in the industry is ever changing and at a faster and faster rate all the time.  So if you want to be successful in the environmental industry, long term, you might want to embrace the technology.

How much is this going to cost?
It depends on a coupe of factors. These factors are; how many wells you are sampling at a site and how many sites do you have?. We bill based on the wells sampled in a year. For the typical site our software will range from $200 to $600 per year per site. Roughly the cost of one or two maps generated by an AutoCad Technician for one sampling event. 

Discounts are given for larger volumes. Call or e-mail for a quote. 

How do I learn more or try it for myself?
Call me or e-mail and we will set up a web demonstration or a free trial, which ever you prefer. I can be reached at 231-933-7035 or at schindler@sampleserve.com. Or simply login using the instructions below or to the right.

- Russell