Most Firms Considering Vapor Migration After EPA Publishes AAI Rule, Survey Finds

Reproduced with permission from Daily Environment Report, 171 DEN A-18 (Sept. 4, 2014). Copyright 2014 byThe Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. (800-372-1033)

Most Firms Considering Vapor Migration After EPA Publishes AAI Rule, Survey Finds

By Pat Ware

The Environmental Protection Agency’s 2013 “all appropriate inquiries” rule has spurred environmental engineering and consulting companies to include vapor migration in their initial assessments of brownfields, according to a survey conducted by EDR.

Of 118 respondents to the EDR survey, 55 percent said they began including vapor migration in Phase I environmental site assessments of potentially contaminated sites after ASTM revised its E1527 assessment standard in November 2013, Dianne Crocker, principal analyst of EDR Insight, told Bloomberg BNA Sept. 2.

The revised standard on conducting Phase I ESAs was quickly incorporated into the EPA’s final all appropriate inquiries rule, issued in December 2013. The rule clarified that vapor migration, the lateral movement of toxic gases in the subsurface, should be addressed in the assessments.

Phase I ESAs are reviews of the current and historical use of a property or building to determine whether the potential for contamination exists on a site. They are intended to inform potential buyers, lenders, insurance companies and others of the risks and liabilities that could be assumed when a particular property is being considered for acquisition for redevelopment.

Screening Methods

Under the EPA rule, parties may use the E 1527 standard or the rule to qualify for certain liability protections under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act .

Crocker said 20 percent of the survey recipients said they considered vapor migration in Phase I ESAs before 2010, when the ASTM E2600 standard on vapor migration was published. Fourteen percent said they had been considering vapor migration since 2010, and 9 percent believe it is outside the scope of their standard Phase I ESA, she said.

Now Industry Practice

The survey “shows clearly that today most environmental professionals are looking at vapor migration risk –that clearly is the industry practice.”

Dianne Crocker, principal analyst, EDR Insight

Most companies “sat up and took notice” of vapor migration after the 2013 revision of E1527 and the subsequent EPA rule, according to Crocker. “I think it also mattered that when EPA issued its final rule, it went out of its way to include language to say that vapor migration is a part of the assessment,” Crocker said.

EDR conducted the survey to determine how companies are managing vapor migration in their Phase I ESAs after the 2013 revisions to ASTM E 1527.

In another survey finding, 27 percent of respondents said they screened for vapor migration using ASTM E2600, the industry standard for screening brownfield sites for potential vapor migration; 8 percent said they used a vapor screening methodology established by their firm; 44 percent said they reviewed Phase I ESA data to assess if further research is needed; and 14 percent said they don’t conduct screens for vapor mitigation, Crocker said. Eight percent said they used another screening process, she said.

If companies decide something more detailed is needed after they review the Phase I ESA data, they usually decide on the ASTM E 2600 approach, she said. “But they’re not going to do that unless they feel there’s a need.”

Separate Section of Report

The EDR survey also asked respondents whether, if they included an assessment of vapor migration in their Phase I ESA, it was included in a separate section of the report.

Fifty-eight percent of respondents said it was, 34 percent said it wasn’t and 8 percent answered ‘other,’ Crocker said. “I’m not surprised that ‘yes’ is the most common answer,” Crocker said. Putting the vapor migration assessment in a separate section shows that companies followed the industry practice and addressed it, rather than just making a cursory mention of it, she said. “And a lot of clients want it in a separate section,” she said.

Additional Charge

In another finding, 80 percent of engineering and consulting firms said they don’t charge more for assessing the potential for vapor migration during a Phase I ESA, while 20 percent said they do, Crocker said.

The results show that companies are reluctant to charge more because the Phase I ESA market is so competitive, Crocker said. “Of the firms that said they do charge more, the average cost was $484.”

While most firms said they include vapor migration in assessments, it’s not usually at the request of their client, Crocker said. The survey showed that only 4 percent of respondents said their clients always request it, 7 percent said they often do, 30 percent said they sometimes do and 59 percent of firms said their clients never request it.

“My takeaway from this is that it’s rare for a vapor screening to be a client-driven request, but the majority of companies are doing it because it’s considered standard practice in the industry,” Crocker said.

Clients’ Understanding Poor

The survey also found that most clients don’t understand vapor migration risk, Crocker said. No firms responded that their clients understand it well, while 41 percent said they understand it somewhat and 59 percent said they understand it poorly, she said.

“If firms are educating their clients about vapor migration risk, they’re still in the minority,” Crocker said. Sixty-one percent of firms said they don’t educate their clients about vapor migration risk, while 39 percent said they do, she said.

The results show that while clients don’t understand vapor migration risk, the “majority of environmental professionals aren’t doing anything about it,” she said. “They need to.”

Consulting firms themselves don’t have a strong grasp of the vapor migration standard (E2600), she said. Sixty-two percent of respondents said they understand most, but not all, aspects of E2600, 23 percent said they understand little about the standard and only 15 percent said they have a strong understanding, she said.

“I was really surprised to see that most people didn’t fully understand the standard,” Crocker said. “It means industry is still coming up the learning curve and getting comfortable with it.”

Biggest Challenges

Asked about their biggest challenges with clients, 63 percent said it was their clients’ lack of education and knowledge about vapor intrusion risk; 46 percent said it was concern about added costs; 32 percent said it was a lack of a driver to do screening (e.g., no lender or attorney requirement); 27 percent said it was concerns about property stigma; and 9 percent cited concerns about longer turnaround time, Crocker said.

The results reinforce that “there’s still a lot of confusion out there about the risk,” she said. In addition, “It’s a very price-sensitive industry. So there’s always going to be a pushback when something’s going to cost more.”

Copyright 2014, The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc.