A New Certified Reference Material for Hydrocarbons in Soil
Petroleum hydrocarbons cause major environmental contamination worldwide.  In Australia, the problem of petroleum hydrocarbon pollution is exemplified by the clean-up of disused service station sites, where fuel has leached into the underlying soil.  Soil samples taken from contaminated sites are analysed by laboratories and the results used to assess the level of contamination and the effectiveness of remediation.

Measuring petroleum hydrocarbons
The Australian Government’s National Environment Protection Council publishes the National Environment Protection Measure (NEPM), which provides a framework for the assessment and remediation of sites contaminated with petroleum hydrocarbons.  Hydrocarbons such as diesel, are complex mixtures of many individual chemicals.  This complexity increases as pollutants are transformed by weathering in the environment.  NEPM provides much needed guidance for the laboratory analysis of contaminated soils. 

NEPM uses the term ‘total recoverable hydrocarbons’ (TRH) to describe petroleum hydrocarbon pollution.  TRH results are divided into a number of hydrocarbon ranges, based on the number of carbon atoms (effective carbon number, ECN) in the individual pollutants.  Profiling the hydrocarbons helps identify the source of pollution as well as assess its environmental and health impacts.

The NEPM lists standard extraction methods and analytical conditions and specifies the calibration, quantification and reporting requirements for TRH fractions.  Laboratories must demonstrate the performance of their method and the accuracy of their measurements which they can do by participating in proficiency testing programs and analysing certified reference materials.

New certified reference material – NMIA MX015
In 2014 the National Measurement Institute (NMI) released a certified reference material for TRH in soil – NMIA MX015.  Produced in conjunction with the Cooperative Research Centre for Contamination Assessment and Remediation in the Environment (CRC CARE), MX015 is soil from a highly contaminated industrial site that was mixed with clean sand to give a suitable level of contamination.  The material was processed and packaged into 50 g units.  A reference method aligned with the NEPM requirements was developed.  The homogeneity and stability of MX015 were assessed and certified values and associated uncertainties assigned.

NMI has coordinated proficiency testing programs for the measurement of TRH in soil since 1995. MX015 was used as the test material in the 2014 proficiency testing round, with eighteen Australian and two New Zealand laboratories participating.  Participants’ results were in agreement with the certified values of MX015, demonstrating the quality of TRH measurements made by environmental testing laboratories. 
Table 1 Certified Values and PT Results


ECN >C10 – C16

ECN >C16 – C34

ECN >C34 – C40


Certified Value 0.90 ± 0.15 7.2 ± 1.1 1.1 ± 0.2

9.2 ± 1.4

Robust average from PT 0.76 ± 0.08 6.8 ± 0.8 1.2 ± 0.1 8.5 ± 0.9

Details of MX015 and other NMI certified reference materials are available on the NMI website.

Upcoming NMI Training Courses

The following NMI courses are offered during October – December 2015.

Chemical & Biological Metrology Training City Date Price

Statistics for Metrology

Brisbane 14 October 2015 $1,083.50

Estimating Measurement Uncertainty for Biologists

Brisbane 29 October 2015 $1,083.50
Analytical Method Validation Melbourne
15–16 October 2015
17–18 November 2015
Estimating Measurement Uncertainty for Chemists Perth 19–20 November 2015 $1,974.50
Physical Metrology Training City Date Price

Introduction to Estimating Measurement Uncertainty


5 November 2015
19 November 2015


Testing Temperature Controlled enclosures


20 November 2015


Calibration of Liquid Hydrocarbon Flow Meters


2–3 December 2015


Introduction to Estimating Measurement Uncertainty


10 December 2015


For further information please visit the training page on our website.
Alternatively, please call us on +61 2 8467 3796 or email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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