Avner Vengosh head shot

Avner Vengosh

Forensic Fingerprinting

The number of manmade or natural contaminants that can pollute our water and soil is huge and they rarely occur in isolation. Teasing out which contaminants are in play at a site, and where they originate, is vital for protecting environmental and human health.

That’s where Avner Vengosh comes in.

Vengosh, Distinguished Professor of Environmental Quality, has developed a suite of tests—he calls them “forensic tracers”—that can identify a contaminant by its unique isotopic or geochemical fingerprint and conclusively track it back to its source, which will have a matching fingerprint.

Vengosh has used the tracers to detect, measure and trace the source of coal ash residuals, radioactive brine from fracking wastewater, naturally occurring uranium, methane, hexavalent chromium (a known carcinogen), and other contaminants at sites worldwide—winning ‘best of year’ honors for his team’s studies three times from the American Geophysical Union and its journals.