When the Right Strategy is to Not to Conduct Remediation

The Challenge – Understanding Contamination and Sources

Have you ever heard the expression, “when you’re a hammer, every problem looks like a nail,”?  It speaks to the sometimes base-level thinking of a practitioner with only one tool in their toolbox. The same can happen with environmental remediation solutions.


VOCs detected in soil vapor are increasingly becoming the driver for assessment and cleanup of sites like dry cleaners and plating facilities; soil vapor surveys are often the first and only type of sampling performed by Phase II investigation firms, as a way to reduce the cost of investigation.


Murex is regularly contacted by property owners facing a tough situation:  They’ve attempted to sell a commercial/industrial property, allowed Phase II sampling, and discovered VOCs in soil vapor test results.  They’ve been offered a proposal to conduct soil vapor extraction to “clean up” the vapor contamination.  In the arena of environmental consulting firms, there are “remediation companies” that think every condition is a reason to conduct remediation, even when it may not solve the underlying issue.


Example Site – Risk of Advancing Remediation Without a CSM

Take the case of a multi-family residential property in Long Beach, California.  Soil vapor test results indicated generally uniform concentrations of tetrachloroethene (PCE) at 2,000 to 5,000 ug/m3 below the building.  A remediation company installed and operated a soil vapor extraction system.  After two years, no progress had been made, and a lot of money had been spent.  Murex stepped in, examined the data, and quickly determined that there had not been a release on-Site.  The source was a former dry cleaner down the street, and it had contaminated the entire neighborhood.  The prior consultant never bothered to sample and analyze soil samples; if they had, they would not have observed any mass in soil indicating a release.


Murex is currently petitioning for our client’s case to be closed, and DTSC has placed the actual source site onto their “Cleanup in Vulnerable Communities Initiative” (CVCI).


Best Practices in Environmental Remediation

Remediation services are like surgery.  Essential when needed but should be avoided when it won’t solve the underlying condition.  And most importantly, a site is never ready for remediation until a source has been identified and delineated.


Detections of VOCs in soil vapor samples are a condition, which results from source mass in soil and/or in groundwater below the test site.  In other words, soil vapor is an indicator of a problem, not the problem itself; it may be that the source of contamination is off-site on a different property.  Never hire any remediation service firm that proposes remediation based on soil vapor sample data alone.


Murex’s principals treat every client and every site as a unique opportunity to strategically solve site challenges.  Contact us today for a free, no-obligation consultation on the approach, progress, and plan for closure of your client’s site.

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