Vapor Intrusion - Why Should I Care?

05.24.17   Cheryl A. Kehres-Dietrich, CGWP | More by this Author, Casey E. Smith, CPG | More by this Author

Vapor Intrusion - Why Should I Care?

Recent regulatory emphasis on the vapor intrusion (VI) pathway has drawn attention in the news, accelerating the need for facility owners to understand its importance. While the VI pathway has always existed, many owners are still unsure of its significance.

SME’s team of vapor intrusion experts can help you navigate the VI pathway to protect your building and its occupants. In this first of two blog posts on the topic, they shed some light on what VI is and why property owners need to understand it.

Vapor intrusion… What is it?
Vapor intrusion (VI) is the term given to the migration of hazardous vapors from a subsurface vapor source into an overlying building or structure. Vapor intrusion contaminants can include volatile organic compounds (VOCs), semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs), mercury vapor, methane, hydrogen sulfide, and others, with the most common exposures being created by petroleum releases (think gas stations), chlorinated solvents (commonly used for dry cleaning and degreasing), and methane (from landfills and other sources).

Diagram Courtesy of US Department of Veterans Affairs PCE Plume Superfund Site

Why should I care about VI, and under what circumstances may this issue come up?

Photo 1: Dry cleaning facilities use chlorinated solvents, and are commonly identified as sources of vapor intrusion for adjoining properties such as this adjacent residence.
Photo 2: Historical service station sites being redeveloped for mixed uses are a common contributor to vapor intrusion issues.

Do you know the historical uses of the building you own or the history of the nearby properties?
Do you own or occupy buildings in or adjacent to a current or former commercial or industrial corridor?  
Were you or your business responsible for past practices that may have resulted in contamination?
Do you plan to build on a vacant site?
Will you have commercial, industrial or residential tenants?

The list of circumstances for potential VI issues goes on, and the sooner you know if you have one the better. The need to evaluate the potential for VI is important and may arise under a variety of circumstances, including:

  • property redevelopment/reuse project cost and design considerations;
  • addressing public health concerns;
  • meeting regulatory obligations for owners/operators liable and not liable for the cause of the contamination; and,
  • claims from third parties with known or perceived human exposures to contamination.

Understanding the VI pathway is important for liable and non-liable property owners and operators alike because both have obligations to protect the health of property users. In addition, liable owners/operators have regulatory cleanup requirements that further drive  the need to understand this pathway. Knowing if you have a VI issue sooner than later will help protect property users and avoid negative public perception, mitigate the potential for claims from third parties, and reduce uncertainties related to future property reuse options.

To further discuss VI, please contact Casey Smith or Cheryl Kehres-Dietrich. CLICK HERE to read the second post on this topic and to learn what to do if an issue is discovered.

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