Try out software that can spot contaminants

Try out software that can spot contaminants

The Energy Department's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has updated its free Visual Sample Plan 3.0 software, used by federal and state agencies to take statistically significant samples at contaminated sites.

An earlier VSP version released in 2001 has 4,000 users. Its development was sponsored by Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency; the Homeland Security Department funded the new VSP release.

Users of VSP 'need a certain amount of knowledge about the site and the regulatory requirements' that apply in each case, said Brent Pulsipher, a statistician at the Richland, Wash., lab.

Because VSP is multipurpose, it does not incorporate specific contaminant regulations or accept sensor input'for example, from radiation detectors, he explained.

A user must 'bring in the site map and input the regulatory thresholds and the amount of tolerance for error,' Pulsipher said. 'The software figures out the necessary sample size based on the tolerance for uncertainty, so that you can make a statement that the site is or is not contaminated, for example, with 95 percent confidence.'

VSP overlays a grid on the site map and applies statistical algorithms to choose the number and location of samples to take from contaminated soil, water or building surfaces. The software can also calculate probable locations of unexploded bombs, mortars and grenades on former military practice ranges.

The earlier VSP has helped agencies determine the extent of contaminants found at a number of radioactive waste sites and landfills.

VSP 3.0 runs under Microsoft Windows 9x, NT, ME, 2000 and XP. The lab held several multiple-day training sessions in 2004, send e-mail to the lab to find out about future training opportunities.

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