Our friends in the engineering industry sometimes ask us; “What’s the worst kind of environmental contamination to find at a project site”?
There’s a lot of different types of contamination that can affect the soil, groundwater, and air. We come across petroleum, dry-cleaning, and heavy metals frequently in our line of work. But if I’m being honest, the worst contamination to find by an engineer is surprise contamination.
It’s surprise contamination that blows budgets and wrecks timelines.
In fact, if an engineer is finding contamination, almost by definition it’s a surprise. It should have been found by an environmental consultant well in advance of the project start.
To make the lives and projects of our friends in the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC-Illinois) run as smoothly as possible we offer the following thoughts and advice.
Preliminary Environmental Screening
Most engineering companies are familiar with Phase I ESAs. If one was completed prior to the project starting, any environmental concerns were likely identified and/or addressed. They typically cost around $2,000. If a Phase I ESA was not completed, environmental consultants have tricks up their sleeves to find almost all the same potential concerns, quickly and often less inexpensively.
The environmental consultant has access to multitudes of government databases and historical information that could identify possible sources of contamination.
Want to know if there were gas tanks on the property in the1920’s?
Was the project site a former unauthorized landfill?
Was it an auto salvage yard in the 1950s?
The environmental consultant will utilize various quick screening techniques to identify issues like these, often within 48 hours and for less than $500. If an issue is found, the environmental consultant will raise the red flag and work with the engineer or client to talk through the possible issues, what can or be done to investigate, and rectify the concerns.
Environmental Screening is Timeline Management
Knowing in advance about potential environmental impacts protects project timelines. Have you ever heard a story about the backhoe operator scraping up an underground storage tank while in the process of putting in building footings?
It’s not uncommon.
It’s also a mess involving government agencies like the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) and the Office of the State Fire Marshal (OSFM). We all know when government agencies are involved, time slows down and project delivery times expand.
Do environmental consultants have a crystal ball that can see everything?
As much as they like to think they do, they don’t. There is always the element of unknown. They won’t know if a farmer buried his trash on his property without letting anyone know, or if an auto repair facility buried drums of used oil to hide it from the government, but environmental consultants will be able to provide the potential risk so budgetary decisions can be made.
It’s far better to know about any potential environmental concerns as early as possible because removing underground storage tanks, excavating, and disposing of contaminated soil, or installing vapor barriers is expensive.
While a simple Preliminary Environmental Screen is less than $500 and could save thousands of dollars and provide peace of mind, the real value might be how it can save your timeline.
We already talked briefly how having to engage government agencies is often a slow and tedious process. It’s far better to discover you need to engage with a regulatory agency early than to make that discovery in the middle of putting in a building foundation. But knowing in advance about contamination can save timelines (and budgets) because elements of the project can be used as solutions to the contamination.
Placement of parking lots, landscaping and slab-on-grade construction can be used to establish barriers and eliminate exposure pathways so contamination can stay in place. Using the project features to do double duty to remediate contamination saves money but it can only save time if the contamination is found early enough to alter the existing plans.
Environmental Screening is Budget Management
Greater insight provided by environmental databases can drive down project costs.
Environmental consultants can establish areas where soil that isn’t contaminated be reused on site or transported and disposed of as Clean Construction Demolition Debris (CCDD). CCDD can be 25% the cost of a Subtitle D landfill.
Concerns raised by environmental screening can be tested inexpensively using ground penetrating radar surveys or electromagnetic surveys. Both provide insight into the absence or presence of underground piping and tanks which may have been long forgotten.
We can use hand augurs instead of drill-rigs in certain scenarios to grab soil samples to test for contaminants. Environmental scientists with a hand augur are far less expensive in both time and money than a drill rig for quick, topical testing.
Environmental Consultant Insecurities
I can tell you from first-hand experience, environmental consultants struggle psychologically with the fact we never have good news to our clients.
At best, we deliver no news.
At our worst, we deliver bad news about contamination.
The secret we’d like to share with you is; if you engage with us early enough, no news is the good news that saved time and money. Bad news early enough can be a nothing more than a speed-bump.
If you need a Preliminary Environmental Screen, give A3 Environmental Consultants a call. We’ll get you the data you need to minimize costs and timeline headaches. A3 Environmental Consultants can be reached at (888) 405-1742 or by email at Info@A3E.com.