01 May “Oh, and you need an Environmental Assessment . . .”
That is often how people are introduced to the world of environmental investigation. The statement could come from a bank when they are applying for a mortgage, or it could be from a town Conservation Commission regarding approval of a redevelopment plan. It may even come from an attorney, realtor, or government agency. Regardless, the call for an environmental assessment is generally followed by panic, concern, and confusion. What does an assessment involve? What will it cost? What if they find something? At this point, the property owner may have recollections of 50s sci-fi movies in which chemicals and/or radiation transform common lizards into 600-foot tall, fire breathing dinosaurs. So, what do you do?
First, don’t panic. That never helps. Second, contact an Environmental Professional to help you work through the process. Third, educate yourself. That’s where this BLOG comes in. To make informed decisions, you need facts. The BLOG will describe the process for obtaining the needed facts, the tools used, the language of the industry, and (most importantly) how to address any environmental issues in the most efficient and cost-effective way.
Environmental investigation is an iterative process. Each step is designed to provide additional, more refined information to characterize the environmental quality of the property. The Phase I Environmental Site Assessment includes reviews of local, State, and Federal records, interviews with people familiar with the history of the property, and a physical inspection of the property. The goal is to identify Areas of Concern; areas where hazardous substances and hazardous waste were used, stored, and potentially released. The Phase I also identifies the chemicals and wastes likely to be present (Constituents of Concern) and individuals and natural resources that may be adversely affected by potential contamination (“receptors”), and the routes by which contamination may migrate from the release area to the receptors. Finally, the Phase I determines if the property may need to be enrolled in a State environmental program (don’t let that scare you) In a Phase II Environmental Investigation, samples of soil, soil vapor, groundwater, and/or surface water samples are collected from each Area of Concern to determine if a release has actually occurred and if any contamination is present. During the Phase III, additional samples are collected from each Area of Concern in which a release was confirmed. The goal is to determine the degree (highest concentrations) and extent (horizontal and vertical distribution) of the contamination. Once this is known, we can determine 1) if remediation is necessary (it may not be) and 2) how best to accomplish any required remediation. As we will see, remediation (if needed) may be as simple as paving an area with asphalt or recording an Environmental Land Use Restriction (ELUR) on the town land records.
The point here is that costs and schedules can best be controlled when all the facts are known. Logically designed and executed investigations provide the necessary facts to make the best decisions. So… don’t panic, and let’s take this journey together.