Field survey of Canadian background soils: Implications for a new mathematical gas chromatography–flame ionization detection approach for resolving false detections of petroleum hydrocarbons in clean soils



The reference method for the Canada-wide standard (CWS) for petroleum hydrocarbons (PHCs) in soil provides laboratories with methods for generating accurate and reproducible soil analysis results. The CWS PHC tier 1 generic soil-quality guidelines apply to 4 carbon ranges/fractions: F1 (C6–C10), F2 (C10–C16), F3 (C16–C34), and F4 (>C34). The methods and guidelines were developed and validated for soils with approximately 5% total organic carbon (TOC). However, organic soils have much higher TOC levels because of biogenic organic compounds (BOCs) originating from sources such as plant waxes and fatty acids. Coextracted BOCs can have elevated F2–F4 concentrations, which can cause false exceedances of PHC soil guidelines. The present study evaluated false PHC detections in soil samples collected from 34 background sites. The list of analytes included soil type, TOC, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), F2, F3, F4, F3a (C16–C22), and F3b (C22–C34). Soils with 3% to 41% TOC falsely exceeded the CWS PHC 300 mg/kg F3 coarse soil guideline. It was previously demonstrated that clean peat had F2:F3b ratios of less than 0.10, while crude oil spiked peat and spiked sand had higher ratios of greater than 0.10. In the present background study, all of the clean organic soils with at least 300 mg/kg F3 had F2:F3b ratios of less than 0.10, which indicated false guideline exceedances. Clean inorganic soils had low F3 concentrations, resulting in high F2:F3b ratios of greater than 0.10. Validation field studies are required to determine if the F2:F3b 0.10 PHC presence versus absence threshold value is applicable to crude oil- and diesel-contaminated sites. Environ Toxicol Chem 2014;33:1754–1760. © 2014 SETAC