Recent breakthroughs in monitoring the environment could offer opportunities for governments, plaintiffs, and defendants alike to efficiently and effectively investigate, analyze, and respond to environmental pollution questions.  Advances made public in 2011 by Missouri University of Science and Technology brought forward the field of “phytoforensics,” giving environment experts a new set of tools.


Similar to how forensics experts use hair to identify a history of drug abuse, phytoforensics experts use trees to identify the history of environmental use and abuse. Phytoforensics use wood samples and water from a group of trees to determine the transpiration and evaporation of the plant activity from the ground to the atmosphere also known as “evapotranspiration.” A review of the tree’s growth rings through a method known as “dendrochemistry” is also a possible method the monitor the environment.

Phytoforensics experts analyze these methods to assist attorneys tracing the origin of contamination across time and through multiple owners of the trees. When claims are made against companies in toxic tort in a particular factory or site, the phytoforensics expert witness will be able to study and provide scientific evidence to support or refute the accusation.

Expert witnesses in phytoforensics can also provide professional advice in restoring contaminated soil and ground water. Careful analysis can determine on what to plant and where to provide on-going monitoring to help remove bio-hazardous pollutants from the soil and ground water.

Attorneys working on estate planning would naturally seek contaminant-free land and property to avoid any damage, risk and abatement. Expert witnesses in phytoforensics can help assist lawyers in such a field. Particularly in situations where the goal is to move forward and to find funding, the possibilities are exciting that a phytoforensics expert could assist with grant applications and conditions of property transfers.

From commercial to litigation to remediation applications, the expert witness in phytoforensics offers an important new tool for those concerned with the relationship between business and the environment.

By: Paloma Capanna, Attorney at Law, Public Policy Analyst