If you read my previous GlobeSt.com column - The Environmental Doctor Is In! - thank you and glad you made it back.
Here, I want to take you a step beyond the first two phases of the Environmental Site Assessment
that I discussed in my last piece. In other words, what happens if issues are discovered during a Phase II ESA
? If you’re a math whiz, you’ll astutely realize the answer is a Phase III. Bravo, good job… but like a good teacher I’ll ask you to give me some context beyond the obvious.
The Phase III, also called a site characterization
or remedial investigation, is the chapter of the environmental story where our suave environmental consulting protagonist overcomes adversity and faces the demons head-on. After an unforeseen surprise, and building toward a climax of epic proportions, our hero slices through the issues standing before a brighter future. Alright, that may be a tad dramatic (and an over inflation of my job description).
The process is actually a bit – yawn – more boring than that. Essentially, during the site characterization
we figure out the extent of impact. Most likely, samples from the Phase II came back above some threshold. But before we can start talking remediation
and long term costs, we need to investigate the severity of the problem. Delineation is necessary. Systematically, we’ll keep sampling and analyzing the resultant data until we can find the edges of the damaged area and assess the receptors.
But just like with the Phase II ESA
, the consultants’ role during the site characterization can be viewed in the more familiar context of a doctor/patient relationship. And just like in personal health, the K bler-Ross model of the five stages of grief
can play true. We’ve all heard them before and they occur in this order: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally, acceptance. To illustrate, take the following hypothetical exchange between an environmental professional
and the property owner of a former gasoline station.
Consultant: Mr. Fowler, the Phase II groundwater test results are in.
Property Owner: Hit me, doc. Give it to me straight.
Consultant: You may want to sit down for this, please take a seat.
Property owner: Ok doc, shoot.
Consultant: I’m sorry, but you have benzene.
Property Owner (blank, frozen stare): Benzene? Bedeviled by benzene. No, no, that’s just not possible. Not my pristine potable perched aquifer – no way.
Consultant: I’m afraid it’s true, my alliterative friend – I reviewed the lab results myself.
Property Owner (brow furrowed, fist pounding the table): How could this happen? #*^@! This is just some left wing eco-nut conspiracy perpetrated by the Obama administration to steal my land, isn’t it? You know it is! Admit it!!!
Consultant: I’m going to need you to calm down, Mr. Fowler. I can’t help you while you’re in this state.
Property owner (staring to the heavens): Oh man, you’re right. It’s just that I’d give anything for a clean sample. We can reason with the EPA, right? What are a few parts per billion of benzene between friends anyway?
Consultant: I understand, and I sympathize, but it just doesn’t work like that.
Property owner (curled up in fetal position on floor): Oh, what’s the point? I’m doomed. Doomed, I tell you. Maybe I’ll just help myself to a glass full of water from monitoring well MW-3 and see what happens.
Consultant: All is not lost, Mr. Fowler. We can get through this. Let’s just work out a scope for a Phase III and go from there in a logical, prescriptive manner.
Property owner (sitting straight, eyes lucid): You’re right doc. We can do this. Benzene, schmenzene. I don’t care if we need to inject oxygen releasing compounds or install a pump and treat system with an air stripper and granulated activated carbon tanks. We are going to beat this thing!
Consultant: That’s the spirit!
As you can see, we are sometimes the bearer of bad news. And for that reason, when delivering Phase II ESA
results, an environmental professional
’s knee jerk reaction might be to say “don’t blame the messenger.” But we have to resist that impulse. Because as drilled into me by a former mentor, if we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem.
A good environmental professional
can get you through the finish line, even if he or she cannot accomplish it solo. The environmental landscape is a jungle of regulatory vines, poisonous critters, geologic boulders, rivers of murky water chemistry, and tangled thickets of permitting thorns. Depending on the magnitude of your particular setting, it may take a team to successfully traverse this terrain. Yes, a machete-wielding yahoo of a consultant may promise to blaze a trail to the Pacific on his lonesome. But you may want to take a step back before sending him a retainer.
In this sense, your environmental team might be like a medical practitioner group with specialists. You may have your favorite primary physician with the great bedside manner, knack for reducing technical mumbo-jumbo, and most importantly these days, rates accepted by your insurance group. But he is more than likely going to rely on a radiologist to interpret scanned images. He’ll need an orthopedic to set that broken bone. And so on.
So, go ahead - think of us environmental professionals
as doctors of the land. The nice part is, instead of us sticking you with the needle to draw a blood sample, we’ll only need to drill a hole in the ground to extract some groundwater. A lot less painful.