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Local technology Down Under

Dusty Schroeder (center), of Morris' West Central Environmental Consultants, is pictured with two of his co-workers from an Australian firm. Schroeder spent six weeks in Australia using new WCEC technology for detecting contaminants in soil1 / 2
West Central Environmental Consultant's LIF system can be fitted into the back of a Sports Utility Vehicle, making it easy to transport to job sites.2 / 2

By Katie Erdman

Hancock Record

Times change and so does technology. As the days and years go by, new ideas, procedures and equipment comes around that in most instances makes life easier and work more user friendly.

In recent years, West Central Environmental Consultants in Morris has kept up on the latest in technology when it comes to detecting and removing contaminants in our environment. With this knowledge and technology they are literally taking their work to a new level both within our state and country and to areas around the world.

WCEC was founded in 1990 and since that time has grown to become a leader in the environmental consulting field. They work with companies in both the consulting and contractual side of environmental issues. Along with consulting companies on various methods of cleaning up environmental contaminants, they also work at detecting these contaminants deep within the ground. This detection process is what is now taking them to other countries such as an ongoing project in Australia.

Dusty Schroeder, a WCEC employee, recently returned from Australia where he spent six weeks working with the device in the Melbourne and Sydney areas. Dusty returned on Dec. 18 and a week later another WCEC employee, Chris Lesmeister, took his place in Australia.

WCEC recently acquired a new piece of equipment to perform Laser Induced Fluorescence investigations. The device uses lasers to detect gases or liquid petroleum products underground, in more specific wording, the hydrocarbons fluoresce and it measures the waveforms.

Before acquiring this technology, WCEC would drill test wells to obtain soil samples in order to find out if and to what degree the soil was contaminated. The LIF machine is also drilled into the soil but can measure the contaminants without actually pulling a soil sample out of the ground. This innovative process is so new that there are only eleven of these machines worldwide and two of them are owned by WCEC.

WCEC has taken the LIF to locations such as Duluth and areas in North Dakota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska and Montana. After making a presentation last year during a trade show in Florida, they were contacted by a company from Australia. This led to an extended contract with a company near Melbourne, Australia that involves soil testing in various areas along the coast line.

While there, the WCEC employees use the new geophysical tool to test the soil without actually pulling soil samples. Dusty spent several weeks working with a private consulting company from Australia.

Before he arrived the LIF had to be shipped to Australia and cleared with customs. The machine was fitted into an SUV and then attached to a drill rig which pushes the probe with the laser light into the ground. Fluorescence from hydrocarbons then travels back through the probe and is stored on a computer giving them the data needed to advise the consulting company on the status of the contamination. A good deal of his time was spent near a refinery along the coast.

During his six weeks in Australia, Dusty had some free time that he used to explore and experiment in the country. He took surfing lessons and did some golfing, which included playing around kangaroos. He spent some time sightseeing and relaxing on the beach. He was able to stay in contact with his wife, Kim, and three children at home through emails and Web cams.

Doug Stahman, manager at WCEC, said that they have several more weeks or even months of work in Australia. He added that it may cost a lot to get the equipment there and to send people over to run it but in the long run, the cost savings to these companies far outweighs the expense.

By utilizing this monitoring method, the company could easily learn that the contamination concentration is not high enough to require removal thus saving them a great deal in removal costs.

This less invasive method is catching on quickly around the world. Besides the two machines owned by WCEC, there is one more in Minnesota, one in Alaska, one in Maryland, one in Florida, two in California, one in Germany, one in England, and one in Latvia. The demand for the use of this equipment is increasing regularly.

At WCEC, there are five of the 33 employees who work strictly with this system.

Joann Dyson manages the LIF program. Joann has a Ph.D. in Physics and did her six-year doctorate studying laser-induced fluorescence, which is the same technology used by the LIF equipment. With Joann is Jessie Frank, Jody Sinkler, Dusty Schroeder and Chris Lesmeister. Joann also spent five weeks in Australia, prior to Dusty, to set the ground work.

WCEC continues to investigate the latest in technology and equipment to protect the wellbeing of people throughout the world. New challenges are always on the horizon and they are ready to meet each one with not only up to date equipment but informed personnel willing to take the time to address each unique problem.