“What is a Soil Gas Sample?”
It’s a good question. It’s part of a string of questions most of us are familiar with - the what, why, who, when, where, and how of something. Let’s check the list.
A soil gas sample is what you get when you remove a small portion of gas inside soil and hold it in a container for testing. Underground soil is like a sponge in that it has empty spaces. Between the surface of the ground and underground water (groundwater), these soil spaces are filled with gas and water. The gas is mostly air, but it can also have gaseous contamination from underground spills of chemicals such as gasoline and cleaning solvents (tetrachloroethylene or PCE). The soil gas may also have by-products of chemical spills like the vinyl chloride that comes from the breakdown of PCE.
Soil gas is sampled to see if there are any harmful gasses that are either naturally occurring or the result of a spill. The samples are usually analyzed at a State-certified lab to find out what chemicals are in the soil gas sample and what the levels are. There are several reasons to collect a soil gas sample.
One reason is to find out if there is a risk to human health and the environment. To check for risk, chemical levels detected at the lab are typically compared to levels judged to be safe by the regulatory community. These levels, sometimes called environmental screening levels (ESLs), are considered safe when they do not pose a potential risk to public health and the environment.
Another reason to collect soil gas samples is to find out where contamination is and where chemical levels are highest. A map showing where chemicals are found and at what levels they are found can provide a good idea of the area of contamination and highlight areas with higher levels. This can help to steer property development plans and keep people away from potentially harmful areas. This information can also significantly lower investigation costs by showing where soil and groundwater sampling should be targeted.
In the case of known underground contamination, soil gas samples may be collected over a period of time to monitor the change in chemical levels. A change that shows a decrease in chemical levels is necessary for environmental case closure.
Sometimes the reason for soil gas sampling is to just find out whether there is underground contamination. For example, a property owner may have soil gas samples collected along a property boundary shared with a dry cleaning business to find out if contamination from the dry cleaner moved beyond the dry cleaner’s property line.
Usually, an environmental consultant or environmental oversight agency proposes collection of soil gas samples. As mentioned above, the reasons are to find out what chemicals are in the soil gas, what the levels are, and where the chemicals are located.
In most cases, personnel trained in soil gas sampling collect soil gas samples. Sampling goals and how the sampling will be done are typically spelled out in a work plan that is approved by a regulatory agency prior to samping.
Soil gas samples are collected in areas of known or suspected underground contamination. Once the soil gas samples are collected, they are taken to a laboratory for chemical testing. In some cases, an on-site field laboratory is used to analyze samples.
In the field, soil gas sample containers are labeled with the sampling location, time the sample was collected, and a sample identification number. After labeling, samples are placed in a sealed container and transported to a state-certified laboratory for analyses.
A chain of custody is prepared at the point of sample collection and it travels with the samples to the laboratory. The chain of custody contains contact information, a list of the samples collected, and other important information. It is a clear line of responsibility from the sample location to the laboratory.
Soil gas samples can be collected at any time, but it is suggested that samples not be collected within 5 days of a good rainfall. Policy makers suggest that after you know where the soil gas contamination is, you should take samples twice per year to show levels during rainy and dry seasons. Once at the lab, it usually takes about two weeks to get the results. Of course, if you are willing to pay more, sample testing can be “rushed”.
Soil gas samples are collected from wells installed to at least 5 feet underground or from sample points that allow access to soil just underneath a concrete floor. In most cases samples are collected using a stainless steel canister that is supplied by a laboratory. The canister is delivered sealed and under a vacuum. During sampling, the canister is attached to a manifold that connects the canister to the well or sample point. The manifold is also equipped with pressure gauges, a filter, and a flow limiter that controls the flow of soil gas into the sample container to maintain sample quality. Sample collection stops when the canister pressure gauge shows the canister is nearly filled.
We answered the five Ws and a H for a soil gas sample. There are plenty of questions to ask about soil gas, contamination, and exposure at our homes and workplaces. We are here to help answer those questions and provide related services such as soil gas sampling and vapor intrusion mitigation system design, installation, and monitoring.
If you have any other questions about soil gas, or need help with another environmental question, please call us or click the button below for a free consultation. We’ve been helping folks for 35 years and we know what we are doing.
RUST stands for Replacing, Removing, or Upgrading Underground Storage Tanks.
The RUST program is a system of grants and loans to help small business owners and operators come into compliance with regulatory requirements for underground storage tanks (USTs). Compliance is achieved through removing, replacing or upgrading USTs. The program is administered by the State Water Resources Control Board.
The RUST Program is a great way for small businesses to protect their business and improve their bottom line. By removing or upgrading their USTs, businesses can reduce their risk of environmental liability and save money on maintenance and repairs.
Eligible costs for grants include:
Eligible costs for loans include those for grants and:
*Single-walled USTs have one wall between the petroleum fuel and the underground soil.
**Double-walled USTs have two walls between the fuel and the underground soil. The second wall provides extra containment that helps to prevent leaks from reaching the soil. It is a tank in a tank (piping in piping) system.
Independently owned and operated small businesses with petroleum USTs and fewer than 20 full-time and part-time employees are eligible for a RUST grant. The principal office and business officers must be domiciled in California. Businesses dominant in their field of operation are excluded.
The facility must have legally been in business retailing gasoline after January 1, 1999, and must have sold less than 1,500,000 gallons of gasoline annually for the two years prior to filing an application.
All USTs owned and operated by the applicant are in compliance with State UST regulations. Grant applicants may be eligible for a waiver from the permit compliance and/or retailing gasoline requirements if the project tanks will be removed and will not be replaced with new tanks and the applicant does not qualify for a RUST Loan.
Independently owned and operated small businesses with petroleum USTs and fewer than 500 employees are eligible for a RUST loan. As with a grant, the principal office and business officers must be domiciled in California, and businesses dominant in their field of operation are excluded.
All USTs owned and operated by the applicant are in compliance with State UST regulations.
If you are eligible for RUST funding, you cannot begin work until you have a grant or loan executed by the State Water Board.
The RUST program grants are available for between $3,000 and $70,000 per grant.
A small business may receive multiple RUST grants, but the maximum lifetime limit in grant money for each small business is $70,000.
Loan terms of 10 or 20 years at ½ the State’s most recent general obligation bond rate are available. Contact the State Water Board for the current interest rate.
Loans are available for between $10,000 and $750,000.
Ten-year loans are secured by a Uniform Commercial Code Financing Statement on the business property, assets, and equipment. Twenty-year loans are secured by a deed of trust on the business property and a Uniform Commercial Code Financing Statement on the business property, assets, and equipment.
Additional collateral and guarantees may be required to provide sufficient security for the loan. The borrower must pay a loan fee of 2 percent at the final loan closing.
The State Water Resources Control Board offers grants and loans to help small business owners and operators come into compliance with regulatory requirements for USTs. Compliance is achieved through removing, replacing, or upgrading USTs.
We talked about eligible costs, eligibility requirements, and funding. Are you considering replacing, removing, or upgrading USTs? Give us a call at 831-227-4898 or click below for a free consultation.
An attorney we work with asked me to look at a phase I environmental site assessment (ESA) for his client. His client was really interested in the property, which already had a solid lease.
The ESA disclosed a historically recognized environmental concern (HREC) and a recognized environmental concern (REC). Both had to do with a release of gasoline from a former underground storage tank (UST) at the property. The property had environmental case closure with very low levels of gasoline contamination left in place.
The question posed by the attorney’s client boiled down to the Phase I recommendation - “Complete a Vapor Intrusion Assessment and Prepare a Soil Management Plan”.
“Is this necessary?” the client asked.
I told them that the recommendation was very conservative based on the information provided by the ESA. I let them know that if they planned to redevelop the property, the county would probably look to them to voluntarily investigate for vapor intrusion and prepare a soil management plan as part of the redevelopment.
I advised that the recommendation was overly conservative given their intention to hold the property as is. I also told them that it was unlikely a vapor intrusion assessment would disclose a vapor intrusion problem.
As we were wrapping up, a question came up, “What is a vapor intrusion assessment?”
I started my answer with an explanation of vapor intrusion.
As a liquid chemical evaporates, it turns from a liquid into a vapor or gas. All liquids evaporate to some extent, and the extent to which a liquid evaporates shows its volatility. The more volatile a liquid is, the more quickly it turns into vapor.
When a liquid chemical leaks into the ground, it enters the soil and groundwater. Once in groundwater, the chemical moves along with the groundwater. As this process unfolds, and depending on its volatility, some of the released chemicals turn into a vapor and enter the space of dry soil above the groundwater. The vapor can leak up through the ground and enter a building causing a buildup of chemical vapors in the building. This process is vapor intrusion.
As time goes on, groundwater carries the dissolved chemical downstream from the chemical release. At the same time, a vapor plume (just like the billowing smoke that forms above a smokestack) forms in the soil above the affected groundwater. The area of the vapor plume mirrors the area of chemically-affected soil and groundwater.
A vapor intrusion assessment uses the link between the vapor plume and affected soil and groundwater to confirm whether there is contaminated soil and/or groundwater in an area and to determine whether any detected contamination poses a human health risk due to vapor intrusion.
In practice, a vapor intrusion assessment involves collecting soil vapor samples from small wells spread across the area you are investigating, and testing the soil vapor samples for suspected contaminants.
Typically, detected contamination levels in soil vapor are used to estimate how much area is contaminated, identify areas of high contamination or “hot-spots”, and gauge potential human health risks by comparing detected levels with published environmental screening levels (ESLs).
A vapor intrusion assessment has some real advantages over the more traditional phase II soil and groundwater assessment for figuring out where soil and groundwater contamination is, where the highest levels of contamination are, and whether soil vapor intrusion poses a human health risk.
Number one, a soil vapor assessment costs much less than a soil and groundwater assessment, generates less waste, is less intrusive, and provides information that can be used to target a groundwater and soil investigation, and possible cleanup. Additionally, a soil vapor assessment can be used to examine vapor intrusion health risks.
Of course, a soil vapor assessment does not provide all the information a soil and groundwater investigation can, but it gets you well down the road and allows more efficient and cost-effective phases of investigation and cleanup.
Our recommendation: Before drilling for soil and groundwater samples, use a soil vapor assessment to get a valuable overview.
In this article, we took a look at soil vapor intrusion, explained what a soil vapor assessment is, and described some of the advantages a soil vapor assessment has over a traditional phase II soil and groundwater investigation.
If you have a Phase I ESA that recommends verifying an HREC or REC, go ahead and get a second opinion, and if necessary, consider using a soil vapor assessment to confirm the ESA recommendation. With over 30 years of experience in conducting soil vapor assessments and reaping their advantages, we can help. Please call us at 831-475-8141 or click below to schedule a free consultation.
Groundwater monitoring is a crucial aspect of environmental management, helping to detect and manage potential groundwater contamination. However, the frequency and duration of monitoring can vary depending on site conditions and regulatory requirements. This page from Remediation Risk Management provides valuable insights into determining the necessary amount of groundwater monitoring, factors that affect monitoring requirements, and how to determine the appropriate frequency and duration of monitoring.
Everything has a beginning, middle, and end - even groundwater monitoring.
The Beginning. After contamination is identified in groundwater at a property, it’s common practice for the local environmental oversight agency to require groundwater monitoring. In California, the response to groundwater contamination is prescribed in State Water Resources Control Board Resolution 92-49 (SWRCB 92-49). This usually comes in the form of a regulatory directive - a letter arrives in the mailbox.
The Middle. The directive usually requires investigation, cleanup, and reduction of contamination by completing the following phases under their oversight:
1. Initial site assessment
2. Soil and groundwater investigation
3. Cleanup and reduction
4. Verification monitoring
The thing is, groundwater monitoring usually begins with initial site assessment and ends with long-term verification monitoring - which may take up to 10 years to complete.
What is groundwater monitoring? In essence, it’s measuring how deep groundwater is below the ground and collecting samples of groundwater for various tests. Groundwater is reached through wells that can be temporary or permanent. The wells are built in holes drilled through the soil into the groundwater. Sometimes, no well is used and groundwater is monitored using a bare hole.
During the initial site assessment phase, groundwater monitoring is used to identify the type and general location of contamination. During investigation and cleanup, groundwater monitoring is used to observe changes in contaminated groundwater and the effects of cleanup and contamination reduction. Long-term verification monitoring is used to build confidence that contamination left in place will not cause future problems. It's easy to see how groundwater monitoring seems to go on and on.
Groundwater monitoring is done to answer the following questions:
The answers to these questions provide much of the information used to complete investigation, cleanup and reduction of contamination - and receive environmental case closure.
As more information about the groundwater contamination becomes available, groundwater monitoring becomes more focused. As a result, it might be possible to reduce monitoring costs by reducing the monitoring frequency, the number of wells monitoring, or the number of tests performed.
The End. Groundwater monitoring ends when contamination levels no longer need watching. All the questions about groundwater contamination have been answered.
Early on - the what, where and how of contaminated groundwater are answered in the preliminary and investigation phases. Contaminant cleanup and reduction continue, and after a few years the seasonal patterns of groundwater flow and contaminant levels are generally understood. Over this period, the decrease in groundwater contamination over time is well established. There comes a point where the groundwater monitoring information shows that even with groundwater contamination safely left in place, cleanup goals will be reached in a reasonable time.
Finally verification monitoring is done to record final site conditions for environmental case closure. Groundwater monitoring usually stops at this point because in most cases verification monitoring supports case closure.
Groundwater monitoring begins with a regulatory directive and ends with a regulatory directive; No Further Action - Case Closure.
We answered the question about how much groundwater monitoring it takes. We described the beginning, middle and end of groundwater monitoring, and how it follows the phases of contamination investigation, cleanup, reduction and case closure. If you’re somewhere around the beginning, middle, or end of your own groundwater monitoring experience, and need some help or a second opinion, give us a call or click the button below for a free consultation. We have over 30 years of experience in completing environmental investigation, cleanup and reduction - including groundwater monitoring.
You’re reading this because you are looking for an honest and reliable environmental consultant who will save you money, give you the answers you need, and provide reassurance. When confronted with an environmental issue, one of the most important questions you’ll have is, who are the best consultants in my area?
RRM wants to help prospective clients find the best company to meet their needs. We’ve been in business since 1992 providing cost-effective solutions to environmental challenges, and we understand the necessity for exploring other options. We compiled a list of local companies to help you narrow your search.
Located in Watsonville, WHA has been providing environmental and geotechnical services since 1988. They have extensive experience providing services to the agricultural industry, including guidance on stormwater conveyance and detention, and waste discharge for composting operations.
This company operates from Monterey and offers a wide range of environmental testing and inspection services in areas such as industrial hygiene, building science, and specialty construction. Their industrial hygienist provides consulting in indoor air quality testing, indoor environmental services, and environmental analysis.
Established in 2005, Trinity is located in downtown Santa Cruz. They offer a broad range of environmental consulting, management, and construction services with a turnkey approach to environmental challenges. This includes providing drilling services in addition to environmental services.
Based in Los Gatos, RHE offers a full range of professional and technical services for the investigation, remediation, and management of difficult environmental conditions. They are great at helping people understand tricky compliance situations.
While cost is always one of the first topics you might discuss, you might also want to hear about their experience in dealing with your particular problem, about their relationship with the relevant county and state agencies involved, project timing, and what potential contract arrangements look like.
We hope this post has provided you with information that helps you make the best choice. No matter which consultant you choose, we are here to answer any questions. Click the button below to schedule a free consultation or call us today at (831) 475-8141.
I got a call from an exacerbated client who was rightly concerned about a letter from the county. “The county letter said my neighbor has finished cleanup at their dry cleaner and they were implementing active vapor intrusion mitigation, “ she told me. We were helping this client navigate the issues, concerns and requirements regarding investigation and cleanup at a property adjacent to her own. “What is active vapor intrusion mitigation and what does it mean for our property?” she asked.
“Good question,” I told her. “I know we’ve already talked about vapor intrusion as it relates to your property, but let's go over it briefly, then we can talk about active vapor intrusion mitigation."
“When we first spoke about investigation and cleanup at the dry cleaner next door, I told you there was a possibility that groundwater contaminated with tetrachloroethylene (PCE) traveled from beneath your neighbor's property to below your property,” I recalled. “I told you that PCE in the groundwater could contaminate soil vapor and contaminated soil vapor could enter the building on your property. Contaminated soil vapor traveling from an underground source into a building or building basement is vapor intrusion.”
“At the time, I let you know that soil vapor samples collected on your property showed there was no risk of vapor intrusion,” I said. “If we had found there was even a potential risk of PCE-contaminated vapor entering your building, we would have recommended active vapor intrusion mitigation (VIM) to keep vapors from entering into your building and to protect occupants from exposure.”
“While cleanup has occurred next door,” I continued, “it wasn’t enough to eliminate the vapor intrusion threat posed by the remaining contamination. So, to allow safe occupancy of the building, your neighbor decided to use active VIM until cleanup goals are reached.”
“Okay, sounds reasonable,” my client said. “So what is active VIM?”
Simply put, active VIM methods create a pressure difference between air on the inside of a building and the soil vapor under a building in a way that keeps vapors out of the building. Active VIM methods tend to be more effective than passive methods, but more expensive. These methods can be used on new and existing buildings, they have a successful track record of performance, they can be applied to a wide variety of site conditions, and simple pressure gauges show they work.
VIM methods require periodic maintenance and they have long-term energy and maintenance costs. Let’s consider three active VIM methods: sub-slab depressurization, sub-membrane depressurization, and building overpressurization.
Sub-slab depressurization systems are designed to provide continuous pressure reduction beneath a building’s floor and foundation. This method is for new or existing slab-on-grade foundations. Sumps, drain tiles and block wall foundations can also be depressurized. Depressurization refers to using a fan or blower to bring the air pressure in the sub-slab venting layer down below the air pressure in the building. In this method, a blower or fan pulls contaminated vapor from the venting layer and discharges it above the roof line into the atmosphere. An air discharge permit may be necessary to allow discharge to the atmosphere.
For new construction, a vent layer made from sand or pea gravel is placed below the slab foundation. Soil vapor collection piping and a common header are installed in the vent layer to direct contaminated soil vapor to a discharge stack that ends above the roofline. The blower/fan connects the common header with the discharge stack. Regulatory guidelines suggest using a sub-slab liner above the vent layer to provide added protection if the fan fails.
For an existing slab-on-grade building, installation of a sub-slab depressurization system entails cutting holes or trenches in the building slab, removing soil and building venting pits or trenches in the space left behind. The vent pits or trenches are arranged to provide depressurization coverage over the entire building footprint. Collection pipes are installed in the pits or trenches after which they are filled with sand or pea gravel and covered with slab material. A common header connects the collection pipes with a blower or fan. Extracted soil vapor is routed to a discharge stack.
Sub-membrane depressurization operates like the sub-slab variety but refers to creating a venting layer beneath a membrane that is installed in crawl spaces over bare earth. It can be used in new and existing buildings with crawl spaces. The membrane covers the exposed dirt surface of a crawl space, creating a venting layer between the membrane and the dirt floor. The rest of the system is similar to a sub-slab depressurization system.
The edges of the foundation and any pass-through piping need to be well sealed and the membrane should be loose enough to prevent tearing. Routine inspection of the membrane is necessary to check for the seals and membrane for damage. An air discharge permit may be necessary to allow discharge to the atmosphere.
Building overpressure involves using a building’s heating, venting, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems or a new system to maintain positive pressure in a building relative to the pressure beneath the building floor. This method is typically used for commercial buildings and can be inexpensive for buildings where the HVAC system maintains a positive pressure.
We wrapped up our conversation about active vapor intrusion mitigation (VIM) methods and turned to the question of how VIM might impact her property. I told my client that VIM at the neighbor’s property means her property won’t be exposed to soil vapor contamination from her neighbor’s property. I let her know that as long as VIM is underway, the state and local environmental health agencies will oversee the operation and that VIM will operate until cleanup goals for her neighbor’s property are reached. It was good news for my client.
We have over 35 years of experience providing solutions for environmental challenges including vapor intrusion mitigation. Can we help you? Please click the button below for a free consultation.
A close friend called. She told me she was working on a development project, and just got the results of a Phase I Environmental Assessment. The assessment pointed to a potential obstacle to the project - a Recognized Environmental Condition (REC). The project site used to be a dry cleaner that closed up shop a few years back, and the assessment noted there could have been a release of tetrachloroethylene, or perchloroethylene (PCE) into the soil and groundwater. My friend was really upset. It was already difficult enough with stakeholders, banks, city and county regulators taking chunks of her time and money - now this. She was stressed. “Can you help?” she said, “Now they want a Phase II Assessment to investigate the REC (Recognized Environmental Condition). All I want to know is, how much is this going to cost?”
I paused for a moment thinking, “It depends…”, but quickly remembered the stress she was under. “How about we meet for coffee in a couple of hours and in the meantime, I will work up a cost for a Phase II Assessment for you?” That’s what she wanted to hear.
A Phase II Assessment is often recommended to verify a REC (Recognized Environmental Condition). In the case of my friend, a Phase II was recommended to determine whether there was a release of PCE. Typically, a Phase II assessment entails collecting soil and/or groundwater samples and analyzing the samples for particular chemicals. Often, a Phase II Assessment means the same thing as a soil and groundwater investigation.
My friend described the site as a small empty retail unit at a shopping mall, so it seemed to me that we could find out if there had been a chemical leak by drilling three small-diameter holes into the ground to collect soil and groundwater samples. One at the former location of the dry-cleaning machine, one at the floor drain, and one along the sewer leaving the unit. At least two soil samples and one groundwater sample would be collected from each hole, and samples would be analyzed at a state-certified laboratory. A soil and groundwater investigation report would be prepared that would include methods, results, conclusions, and recommendations. All the work would be overseen by a professional geologist or engineer whose signature would appear on the final report.
One way to estimate the cost of work is to break it up into tasks, and then estimate the cost of each task. A Phase II soil and groundwater investigation can be broken into three main tasks:
With the tasks identified, we can estimate the cost. My knowledge and experience are important here, but a reference carries weight. The California Underground Storage Tank Cleanup Fund, a state program for underground storage tank owners and operators that funds investigation and cleanup, publishes cost recommendations (Guidelines). While these recommendations are associated with work on sites contaminated with gasoline and the like, they can be applied to assessment work for other compounds, such as the dry-cleaning chemicals my friend was worried about.
The work plan:
The Guidelines estimate the 2018 cost of a Phase II soil and groundwater investigation work plan at $3,380.
Adjusting for inflation, about 8.6% according to California Consumer Price Index (CPI) Inflation calculator, we have estimated the cost of a Phase II soil and groundwater work plan at $3,671. (Note – you can also adjust estimated costs to a particular area of California or to a national average.)
For field work, we will consider the cost of drilling three holes to 30 feet as suggested in the Guidelines. In the description of work, the Guidelines include scheduling, coordination, field preparation, permitting and field work in the estimated cost for three holes. The Guidelines also include costs for equipment rental and supplies, a drilling contractor, chemical analyses, and subcontractor mark-up. Here the number of samples and methods of sampling that the Guidelines recommend differing slightly from the proposed work for my friend’s site. To address the differences, we will simply adjust the Guidelines cost by subtracting unnecessary costs.
As presented in the Guidelines, the total cost to drill three holes to 30 feet is $11,244, but after adjusting for the difference in the number of samples to be analyzed (9 for my friend versus 15 in the guidelines) and the number of analyses to be conducted (one for my friend versus two in the guidelines), the total cost for drilling three holes to 30 feet comes down to $8,308.
Field work also includes health and safety coordination and waste disposal. The Guidelines estimate the cost of a Community Health and Safety Plan at $1,392 and waste disposal at $145 per 55-gallon drum of soil waste. It is likely only one drum of waste will be generated during field work on my friend’s project.
Regarding an assessment report, the Guidelines provide the cost for a report where six holes are drilled and three of the holes are converted to groundwater monitoring wells. It’s clear the scope of work linked to the Guidelines estimate is greater than for my friend; however, in my experience, the difference in terms of report preparation is small, in this case, less than $500. The Guidelines quote $6,944 for an investigation report – let’s say $6,500 for our report.
Finally, is there anything we left out? For example, it’s likely the floor of the unit is concrete, and we will need a concrete driller to actually get underground. Additionally, now that we have holes in the floor, we will need to restore the floor by backfilling the holes and patching the surface. The Guidelines are not much help here, but in my experience, a concrete-cutting contractor is going to cost about $500 and the backfill and patch is going to cost about $900.
Now, what else did we miss? Something. To address this something, we use a contingency factor, say 10 percent. This additional 10 percent is to account for things we did not address or for unforeseen circumstances – like the concrete floor being 15 inches thick instead of the typical 6-to-8-inch thickness.
Now we are ready to sum up the costs. Between the work plan, field work, and the report, the total estimated cost (adjusted for inflation) is $22,946. With a 10% contingency the total cost ranges from $22,946 to $25,241. Now I was ready for a cup of coffee with my friend.
I arrived on time to find my friend seated at a window table. She looked up and noticed me, “Hi, great to see you”, she said. We received our coffee and spent what seemed like forever adding cream and sugar in silence. I spouted up, “Ready for the news?” She slumped, “Okay.”
I started with my explanation of how I got the estimate, but when I looked over, her glazed eyes told me to get on with it. “Alright, I estimated the cost for a Phase II soil and groundwater investigation at your location to be $25,000.” The glaze turned intense, “That’s a heck of a lot of money - why does it cost so much?” I thought for a moment and said, “Let’s look at the factors that drive cost.”
There are several factors that drive the cost of a soil and groundwater investigation, but for me, two factors top the list: the type of contamination and site location.
The type of contamination can be broken down into the composition (what’s in it), the magnitude (how much is there), and the extent (how far has it spread).
Site location includes things like where the site is located, how big it is and whether improvements have been done, the location of groundwater, site geology, local regulations, site use (residential or commercial); and how hard it is to properly dispose of waste from drilling.
Let’s take a closer look at some of these factors.
Factor That Drives Up Cost
How and Why the Factor Drives Cost
|Kind of Contamination||Hazardous contaminants, such as those that are toxic, require specialized personnel, equipment, and disposal that drive up costs.|
|Contamination Level||Higher levels of contamination drive up waste disposal fees and require specialized methods, personnel, and equipment that cost more.|
|Contamination Area and Depth||Larger areas and depths of contamination need more time to investigate and bring on more waste to dispose of, more samples to analyze, and more data to report.|
|Soil and Rock||Very hard or dense ground requires special equipment for drilling and longer drilling times that drive up costs. The same is true for drilling in sandy or loose soil.|
|Groundwater||Dealing with groundwater drives up costs and the depth of groundwater below the ground drives costs because greater depths require more drilling, more well construction time, and more waste disposal.|
"Well, that sounds complicated," she said. “So you’re saying that if the groundwater was deeper at my place, a soil and groundwater investigation would cost more?” “Yes”, I said, “for one thing, the field investigation might take longer than it would otherwise, increasing the cost.”
“So it could be worse…” she said flatly.
We sat in silence for a moment and then I asked if she had any more questions. She sat up straight and said, “Probably, but thank you. I need to let this soak in.” “No problem”, I replied, “let me know if you need any more help with your project.” I let her know our firm was a one-stop-shop that could provide all the environmental-related services she would need to complete her project. I also told her we are very sensitive to the hardships, both financial and emotional, that environmental issues bring.
We covered a lot of ground here. Using cost guidelines from California’s Underground Storage Tank Cleanup Fund as a reference, we broke down how much it costs to complete a Phase II soil and groundwater investigation, including the work plan, field work, report, and a 10% contingency. We also looked at the two primary factors that make a Phase II assessment so expensive - the type of contamination and site location.
Are you staring down the barrel of a Phase II Assessment, and don’t understand why? Are you having trouble juggling the competing demands of regulators and other stakeholders? Let us help. We’ve got 20 years of experience solving problems just like this. Schedule a consultation by clicking the button below, or just give us a call at 831-475-8141.
"You know what a lemon car is, right? Nobody wants one. Nobody wants contaminated property either."
In the simplest terms, the point of a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) is to protect a prospective property buyer from getting a lemon of a property. You know what a lemon car is, right? Nobody wants one. Nobody wants contaminated property either. A Phase I ESA is designed to inform the buyer of what they’re getting into while providing liability protection.
It starts with Superfund. The word Superfund probably brings up images of pretty meadows filled with garbage and pipes dumping fluorescent green sludge from a nearby factory into a pristine river. You wouldn’t be far off the mark, unfortunately. Take a look at the Valley of the Drums, a Superfund site in Brooks, Kentucky that has been undergoing cleanup since the 1970s.
Superfund was formed when people started taking issue with the environment getting trashed with contamination nobody wanted to take responsibility for. In response, the EPA formed the Superfund in 1980, which is basically a “super” pool of “funds” the EPA uses to clean up abandoned toxic waste dumps. The money comes from taxes levied on the folks who make these nasty chemicals, including the petroleum industry. Soon after the Superfund was formed, the EPA gave it a fancier name: the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), officially enacted by Congress on December 11, 1980.
CERCLA lives up to its name in that it is very comprehensive and, let’s be honest, is a very long code of legalese nobody reads unless they absolutely must. With that said, there are some powerful protections under CERCLA for buyers and developers of commercial real estate people. These laws are known as “landowner liability protections” or LLPs. Without boring you with what this means as defined under CERCLA, the easiest way to understand it is, if you, the buyer, get a Phase I ESA that is done properly, you won’t be on the hook for any environmental issues that might be discovered after you purchase the property.
I’m betting your next question is, what do you mean by “done properly”?
After CERCLA established these protections for landowners, they had to come up with a standardized set of rules that every person who is seeking this protection must follow. This set of rules, as you’ve probably guessed, is what we call the Phase I Environmental Site Assessment.
To standardize the steps of a Phase I ESA, CERCLA people met with people from The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), one of the world’s most respected standards development organizations, to create a set of standards in conducting a Phase I ESA. ASTM develops standards for more than 150 global industries, from the quality of building materials supporting a skyscraper to the standards in the production of the ceramic mug you drink your coffee from.
ASTM developed the Standard Practice for Environmental Site Assessments: Phase I Environmental Site Assessment Process ASTM E1527-21. It’s a 60-page document outlining the steps to complete a Phase I ESA and the rules that must be followed to ensure the process is done to the standards, and thus, be a legally binding document recognized by CERCLA. The Standard is updated every five years or so. If you’re willing to part with $85 to take a closer look at the Standard, it can be purchased on ASTM’s website: https://www.astm.org/e1527-21.html.
*Note that purchasing the Standard isn’t a requirement for prospective buyers; it’s mostly used by the environmental professional who is preparing a Phase I ESA for a client.
If you hire us to do a Phase I ESA, rest assured we follow ASTM E1527-21 to the letter. We’ve carefully read every line of this Standard and we have over 40 combined years of experience in conducting these investigations. Don’t buy a lemon. Get a Phase I ESA and feel confident in your choice to protect your future investment.
Do you have more questions about a Phase I ESA? Check out our Phase I Reading Guide here. Or sign up for a free consultation by clicking this link:
For many of those managing investigation and cleanup of property contaminated with tetrachloroethylene (PCE) and other solvents in California, low-threat solvent case closure is the best but least understood option. This lack of clarity leads to frustration and mistrust. Let’s get familiar with low-threat solvent case closure and develop some general criteria beginning with the cleanup goal.
California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) policy does not require that contamination is completely gone at the time of case closure; it specifies compliance with cleanup goals and objectives within a reasonable timeframe. This means that case closure can occur with contamination left in place as long as cleanup goals, such as relevant environmental screening levels (ESLs) or maximum contaminant levels (MCLs), are met in a reasonable timeframe. What defines a reasonable timeframe is ultimately decided by the regulatory oversight agency, but the decision considers the pace of natural cleanup mechanisms such as biodegradation. SWRCB closure orders for low-threat petroleum hydrocarbon sites state a reasonable time frame for plumes of a limited extent is multiple decades or longer, but expect more restrictions because PCE is less susceptible to natural cleanup mechanisms and has much lower ESLs. The general criteria for achieving cleanup goals are:
Criteria: Establish that natural mechanisms can reduce levels to cleanup goals and that contamination levels are at a point where natural mechanisms can reduce levels within a reasonable time frame.
“It seems like the regulator has the power to keep asking for more and more with no end in sight. I’m frustrated! Where does this all end?”
I could see my client was ready to blow up. The oversight regulator had just looked up from a figure she was contemplating and said, “Maybe we need some more samples in this area,” pointing to a small patch of the map that already had two sample locations. “There may be contamination extending beyond those sample locations.”
It was true that there may be more contamination beyond the boundary set by the sample locations, but we argued there was enough data to draw a boundary around most of the contamination and adequately characterize the extent of the contamination.
“Well I’m not sure,” said the regulator, “I’ll have to check with my supervisor.”
As we entered the elevator for a trip down to the lobby, my client let out a giant sigh, “Are you kidding me - when’s enough enough?”
“Last time she said we should be able to wrap up the investigation with the latest data - now this,” my client bemoaned. “I know you told me, but what exactly are they looking for?”
“Let’s go for a cup of coffee and I’ll try to explain.”
We took some time to flavor our coffee and regroup from the meeting in silence. I began, “I am really sorry about this situation and I totally understand your frustration.”