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Accredited laboratory to identify oil spills

The Instituto de Diagnostico Ambiental y Estudios del Agua (IDAEA) is the first laboratory accredited in Spain to analyze and identify the oil spills through its “fingerprint”.

An oil spill hits the Spanish coast.In cases when the source of the oil spill is not clear, it is necessary to have the analytical methods to characterize spill samples in order to discover the source, to establish responsibilities, impose sanctions and to help in the clean up and recovery tasks.

The Instituto de Diagnóstico Ambiental y Estudios del Agua (IDAEA) of the CSIC is the first Spanish laboratory that has been accredited by ENAC (Entidad Nacional de Acreditación) to perform this type of analysis.

The method to be used to analyze the hydrocarbon “fingerprint” is a standard methodology to characterize and identify oil spills in sea water, sampling grids, emulsionated samples and tar balls. It was developed by a group of ten European laboratories, including the IDAEA, and it was recently approved by the European Committee for Standardization (CEN), and can be found in the document  CEN/TR 15522-2:2009.

The research professors Joan Albaiges and Josep Maria Bayona at the Instituto de Diagnóstico Ambiental y Estudios del Agua are members of the network of experts OSINET (Oil Spill Identification Network) that has developed this standard methodology.

All petroleum products are composed of tens of thousands of hydrocarbons and derivatives in different proportions; no two are alike. So, the method compares the chemical composition of the oil spill sample with the suspected sources (usually vessels). The profiles of different groups of molecular markers and the relative proportions of these compounds are also compared. If the differences between two samples are not important and are smaller than the usual analytical variability, it can be concluded that both samples match and, therefore, that the oil spill comes from the analyzed source.

When an oil spill occurs in Spanish territorial waters, the rescue teams of the Salvamento Marítimo, a branch of the Spanish Ministry of Development (Ministerio de Fomento), is the competent authority to collect samples from the spill and from the potentially polluting vessels.