A crime-scene-type tool is being used by an Alberta university to help investigators looking into the cause of wildfires, arsons and oil spills. Gwen O’Sullivan of Mount Royal University in Calgary said the $550,000 mass spectrometer separates complex mixtures and can detect chemical compounds at very low levels. She says that makes it possible to determine if flammable liquids were used to start a fire.
“You’ve heard of crime scene investigations – this is the same idea but in an environmental context,” said O’Sullivan, an environmental science professor and environmental forensic researcher. The mass spectrometer, used in tandem with other Mount Royal equipment, can produce a three-dimensional analysis to identify what ignited a fire or caused contamination.