For landowners looking to pursue relief of environmental cleanup liability under the Land Recycling (Act 2) Program or remediate a storage tank release, conducting a Risk Assessment early in the process can reduce or eliminate the need for costly remediation, capping, or other engineering controls. Risk Assessments do, however, have specific requirements that are frequently overlooked in the project planning phase.
In addition, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) has dramatically tightened the requirements for Act 2 and Storage Tank and Spill Prevention Program Risk Assessments. The PADEP Central Office now reviews all Act 2 risk assessments with a critical eye to ensure that all onsite and offsite receptors are evaluated in strict accordance with the PADEP Chapter 250 – Administration of Land Recycling Program and Chapter 245 – Administration of the Storage Tank and Spill Prevention Program.
To avoid costly and time-consuming risk-related pitfalls, here are the top five questions you should ask at the onset of your remediation project:
- Has enough data been collected as part of Site Characterization to provide for a statistically robust Risk Assessment? Risk Assessments rely on a statistically sound dataset to properly evaluate site risks. For example, if only 4 surface soil samples have been collected from within the Site and a Risk Assessment will be evaluating current residents or groundskeepers, the Risk Assessment must rely on maximum concentrations as enough data has not been collected to calculate a less-restrictive statistic (i.e., 95% UCL). This will likely result in an overestimate of actual site risks, which may lead to an unacceptable risk requiring remediation. Furthermore, the data set may not provide adequate spatial representation required for evaluating receptor exposure and result in a deficiency or disapproval from PADEP.
- Have all potential exposure media been sampled that would address all current and/or potential future onsite (and offsite) use? Although relief of liability can only be obtained from PADEP for soil and groundwater, the Site Specific Standard (SSS) requires that all media be evaluated in a Risk Assessment if exposure cannot otherwise be excluded through pathway elimination. For example, if a stream transects a property, not only should surface water be sampled for evaluating potential risk to trespassers or recreational users, but sediment should also be sampled. There are no PADEP Medium-Specific Concentration (MSCs) for sediment screening purposes and Chapter 93 Water Quality Standards are extremely conservative. The likelihood that these media would result in unacceptable risks is extremely low in most cases, but without a Risk Assessment to quantitatively evaluate the risks, relief of cleanup liability cannot be granted by PADEP.
- Have you considered potential risks to construction and utility workers who will be implementing a remedy? Recently, the PADEP has placed an increased focus on the evaluation of potential risks to construction and utility workers during and/or after property redevelopment. This requires that enough soil samples be collected from the 0-15 foot depth interval to adequately address typical soil exposure as a result of mixing that occurs during construction. Does the property have contaminated groundwater that will be encountered during construction activities? PADEP is also now focusing on the evaluation of construction/utility worker exposure to groundwater while performing digging and trench activities.
- Have you carefully considered the risk-related implications of your list of contaminants being sought for relief of liability? When seeking the SSS, PADEP requires that all contaminants being sought for relief of liability be included in a Risk Assessment. However, certain contaminants, such as vanadium, prove particularly challenging to evaluate for acceptable risk. The project team should carefully discuss the list of analytes that should be included in the risk assessment and subsequent release of cleanup liability. Remember, if there has not been a release of a particular compound, there is theoretically no cleanup liability for that compound.
- Does your data meet data quality objectives to support the performance of a Risk Assessment? Frequently, Risk Assessment data quality objectives are not considered in the planning phases of an Act 2 or storage tank release project. For example, when performing a Risk Assessment consistent with PADEP Chapter 250 regulations, the maximum reporting limit of a non-detect contaminant must be included in the risk calculation if it exceeds applicable screening criteria. This can yield extremely high risks if care is not taken in the beginning to select the appropriate analytical method and reporting limits. Not only can this cause undesired results from single contaminants, but even greater impacts when considering multiple contaminants (i.e., cumulative risks).
As PADEP continues to rely heavily on the Risk Assessment process and their strict compliance with Chapters 250 and 245 regulations, discussing these considerations upfront can save both time and money throughout the lifespan of a project. Brickhouse’s decades of Risk Assessment experience with both federal and state regulatory agencies can help clients navigate the changing landscape within PADEP, participate in high-level discussions with Central Office risk assessors, and ultimately gain PADEP approv