Tremendous resources have been and continue to be spent investigating and remediating petroleum hydrocarbon compounds (PHCs) in soil and ground water. Investigating and planning a remedial strategy for sites affected by PHCs is often a challenging task because of the complex chemical nature of the PHCs. the complex regulatory environment related to PHC cleanup, and the use of analytical methods that provide quantitation but not identification of PHCs. From a technical standpoint, the PHC impacting soil and/or ground water is frequently inadequately characterised, both in identification as well as in is general properties (solubility, toxicity). From a regulatory standpoint, promulgated or recommended total petroleum hydrocarbon (TPH) cleanup levels generally relate to assumed properties of specific unweathered products and are inconsistent among different agencies and regions. This produces a prime situation for unwillingly spending more resources on investigation or remediation than may be necessary, especially when the PHC in the subsurface has different properties from unweathered products such as gasoline or diesel.

Accurately identifying the PHC and its nature, a process known as fingerprint characterization, is critical to the determination of appropriate regulatory goals and design of cost-effective remedial approaches. This paper presents several case studies in which fingerprint characterization made a significant difference in the project outcome. In each instance the nature of the organic material was better understood, the regulatory cleanup levels were negotiated based on the nature of the material, and a remedial approach was implemented that differed significantly from and was generally less costly than what would have been required without fingerprint characterization data.