Deborah A. Chiavelli, PhD

Technical Director


ContacT Information

Phone: (631) 232-2600


Location: Islandia, NY


Sediment Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study/Pre-Design Investigation

Environmental Forensics – Sediment and Upland Contaminant Fingerprinting, Delineation, and Apportionment

Cost Allocation and Litigation Support for Remedial Action and Natural Resources Damages

Environmental Chemistry

Aquatic Ecology


PhD, Biology, Dartmouth College

MS, Biology, University of Mississippi

BS, Natural Resources, Cornell University

Deborah A. Chiavelli, PhD

Technical Director

Dr. Chiavelli is an environmental scientist with eighteen years of consulting experience in contaminated site investigation and remediation, predominantly at sediment sites. In addition to management and investigation of contaminated sites, Dr. Chiavelli is an expert in environmental forensics. She has led forensic source evaluations of chemical contamination at sites throughout the United States and Canada, including expert litigation support. Her forensics projects include sediment, soil, and groundwater contaminant source evaluations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), petroleum hydrocarbons, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins/furans, pesticides, and metals. She has taught environmental forensics courses for the Environmental Professionals Organization of Connecticut (EPOC) and the Massachusetts Licensed Site Professional (LSP) programs, with qualifying continuing education credit for Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York. Her approach to environmental forensic investigation focuses on robust, site-specific, and quantitative chemical fingerprinting tools for source identification, delineation, and apportionment. Dr. Chiavelli applies the same rigorous approach necessary for environmental forensic investigation to all aspects of contaminated site investigation and remediation.

representative projects
  • CERCLA Site Sediment Remedy and Natural Resources Damages Allocation. Dr. Chiavelli was the lead expert in support of sediment remedy allocation for two former manufactured gas plant (MGP) facilities in a large, urban river Superfund site. She served as lead author of 14 expert, rebuttal, and surrebuttal reports submitted to an independent allocation team on behalf of the client and she assisted with development and review of numerous allocation briefs submitted by the client’s counsel. The work included analysis of thousands of environmental samples along a ten-mile river extent to evaluate sources for multiple chemicals of concern (PAHs, PCBs, dioxins/furans, and pesticides). Surface and subsurface delineation were linked with sample-based results to apportion sediment cleanup liability in distinct sediment management areas. The sediment remedy allocation was supported by application of innovative fingerprinting tools, including multivariate analysis, site-specific diagnostic ratios, a contaminant weathering model, and contaminant source mixing models to quantitatively apportion contaminant sources in environmental samples. Dr. Chiavelli also provided technical support to contest overallocation of natural resources damages (NRD) to the client at the Site. Dr. Chiavelli coordinated with legal counsel and was the technical lead in multiple meetings with the NRD Trustees. Her robust forensic analysis approach combined with a clear demonstration of flaws in the allocation method employed by the NRD Trustees’ consultant resulted in a significantly reduced allocation to the client. In support of site allocation, Dr. Chiavelli also directed several forensic sampling programs and collaborated with feasibility study and pre-design investigation field sampling teams to ensure upland and sediment sampling programs were consistent with allocation data quality objectives.
  • Former New York State MGP Site, Lake Sediment Operable Unit Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study. Dr. Chiavelli was project manager and a technical lead for a supplemental remedial investigation and feasibility study in a lake sediment operable unit for a former MGP site in upstate New York. In this role, Dr. Chiavelli was a lead for all client and regulatory agency meetings, communications, and negotiations. Dr. Chiavelli co-led and managed a sediment quality triad benthic risk assessment, including work plan development, field work management, and benthic risk analysis. She managed the supplemental remedial investigation (RI) report development, response to agency comments, and RI report finalization. She directed remedial alternative analysis and footprint delineation to evaluate PAH, sheen, and non-aqueous phase liquid (NAPL) impacts for feasibility study report development.
  • Crude Oil Pipeline Spill Residual Oil Quantification, Enbridge Energy Partners, Marshall, Michigan. Dr. Chiavelli was the project manager and technical lead in a chemical forensic quantification of residual crude oil in river sediments and flood plain soils several years after the Line 6B pipeline spill in a 40-mile reach of the Kalamazoo River. Dr. Chiavelli’s forensic analysis of PAHs and petroleum biomarkers separated pipeline contamination from other hydrocarbon sources including urban runoff, MGP tar, parking lot coal tar sealcoat and older petroleum spills. Innovative approaches developed by Dr. Chiavelli and her team included 1) two- to three-day turnaround forensic analysis for hundreds of sediment and sheen samples collected during remediation using an automated, modular forensics statistics and graphics package, 2) site-customized mixing models designed to estimate residual spill oil concentration in sediment and soil samples while accounting for varying inputs from other hydrocarbon sources and for severe weathering of the crude oil and 3) estimation of residual oil volume in distinct geomorphological river regions. She was a co-author of the 2015 Enbridge-released white paper Urban PAH Background Evaluation. In response to this work, the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) released a revised residual oil estimate 50% lower than their initial estimate for river sediments and a “No Further Action” designation for floodplain soils.
  • Multiple Source Petroleum Hydrocarbon Soil and Groundwater Release Sites. Dr. Chiavelli has worked on numerous upland sites applying petroleum hydrocarbon forensic analysis to soil, NAPL, and groundwater to identify and distinguish sources such as MGP tar, commercial coal tar products, diesel, heavy oils, crude oil, and gasoline. Depending on the site, the work has been applied to support conceptual site model development, responsible party footprint delineation, and contaminant source apportionment including mediation and litigation support. For example, during delineation of historic soil petroleum contamination at a small business site, Dr. Chiavelli performed a forensic analysis to demonstrate that the Site was impacted by two separate diesel fuel releases, corroborating chemical forensics with spill records and groundwater flow data to indicate a likely recent release near the Site that was not attributable to the client’s property operations.
  • PCB Contamination Litigation, Urban River, Boston, Massachusetts. Dr. Chiavelli conducted PCB congener fingerprinting and source allocation for PCB contamination. She developed innovative, site-specific forensic diagnostic indicators to separate multiple weathered forms of the client’s released PCBs from numerous other PCB sources. Dr. Chiavelli assisted with expert and rebuttal report preparation, with preparation for deposition of experts, and with development of demonstratives for trial. The jury decision reduced the client’s liability by 15%.
  • Dioxin and Furan Forensic Investigation, Small Parties Group, Passaic River, New Jersey. Dr. Chiavelli was part of a technical team that conducted forensic analysis of dioxin and furan contamination in the Passaic River. The team combined chemical forensic analysis and fate and transport modeling to demonstrate the spatial influence of a dioxin/furan point source and background sources in the river.
  • MGP Site Indoor Air Vapor Fingerprinting, Confidential Client, Manhattan, New York. Dr. Chiavelli provided forensic analysis for an indoor air monitoring program to evaluate volatile organic hydrocarbons detected in residential buildings situated over legacy subterranean MGP-sourced contamination. Diagnostic ratios specifically developed for the Site demonstrated that the indoor air composition was inconsistent with vapor origination from MGP hydrocarbons.
  • Quadrini, J.D., W. Ku, J.P. Connolly, D.A. Chiavelli, and P.H. Israelsson, 2015. “Fingerprinting 2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzodioxin Contamination Within the Lower Passaic River.” Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 34(7):1485–1498.

  • Byard, J.L., S.C. Paulsen, R.S. Tjeerdema, and D. Chiavelli, 2014. “DDT, Chlordane, Toxaphene and PCB Residues in Newport Bay and Watershed: Assessment of Hazard to Wildlife and Human Health.” Reviews of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology 235:49–168.

  • CIESM 2004. “Executive Summary.” In Novel Chemical Contaminants and Pathogens in Coastal Waters. Editor, N.S. Fisher; Chiavelli one of 13 authors. CIESM Workshop Monograph No. 26, 2004.

  • Chiavelli, D.A., K.L. Cottingham, and R.K. Taylor, 2004. “Linking the Ecology, Epidemiology and Pathogenicity of Vibrio cholerae: A Molecular Genetic Approach.” Novel Chemical Contaminants and Pathogens in Coastal Waters. Editor, N.S. Fisher. CIESM Workshop Monograph No. 26.

  • Cottingham, K.L., D.A. Chiavelli, and R.K. Taylor, 2003. “Environmental Microbe and Human Pathogen: The Ecology and Microbiology of Vibrio cholerae.” Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 1(2):80–86.

  • Threlkeld, S.T., D.A. Chiavelli, and R.L. Willey, 1993. “The Organization of Zooplankton Epibiont Communities.” Trends in Ecology and Evolution 8(9): 317-321.

  • Chiavelli, D.A., E.L. Mills, and S.T. Threlkeld. 1993. “Host preference, seasonality, and community interactions of zooplankton epibionts.” Limnology and Oceanography 38(3): 574-583.