By: Simon Hunt
What are emerging contaminants and should I be concerned about them? If you don’t take a pro-active management approach – then the answer is probably yes.
Significant costs are being incurred by corporates, industry and developers managing emerging contaminants – these range from Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) and other product formulations with perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), asbestos and silica dust, and methamphetamine in residential buildings. Some might argue that these compounds, formulations and contaminants have been in existence for many years – which is often the case, but health research and testing to understand the risks is not always available at the time of initial use. Thus, guidance and regulation controlling these contaminants is often in a state of flux and initial guidance (and enforcement) tends to be conservative because of a lack of certainty on the environmental and human health risks posed.
Certain formulations are initially identified as safe to use, but later found to be detrimental to human health and/or the environment. Regulatory re-openers are triggered by emerging contaminants – which, depending on the regulatory framework, can result in no-further action (NFA) determinations being re-evaluated. This situation often arises from a change in land use (to a more sensitive use), revision of clean-up standards, introduction of new contaminants of concern (CoC) or data, and review clauses in NFAs.
Managing these issues requires a pro-active management approach – rather than taking an ostrich approach of burying your head in the sand and hoping the problem passes you by. Examples of pro-active management include (but not limited to):
- Stay abreast and up to-date on regulatory changes and emerging CoCs – this can be managed by subscribing to a regulatory update service or just through regular meeting/conversations with your existing environmental professional.
- Where possible, take a pro-active stance when consulting with regulators and central government agencies on changes to environmental legislation, regulation, and environmental guidelines/standards and support industry bodies who may be lobbying these organisations.
- Check with your insurer on what your environmental impairment insurance (or similar) covers you for and how they deal with emerging CoCs should a claim arise.
- Benchmark/audit your site operations for legacy and current presence of emerging CoCs, particularly if you have a facility located in an industrial area where your neighbours could also be dealing with the same CoCs.
EHS Support personnel are providing strategic support to clients on a range of emerging contaminant issues. Some examples from our New Zealand staff are exemplified below.
- Asbestos Dust – the succession of sizeable earthquakes, poor removal practices and general aging/weathering of products in New Zealand have created significant asbestos dust issues. This has been particularly evident on several projects, including from within internal ceiling spaces that were constructed with asbestos containing materials (ACMs), and beneath roofs historically constructed of ACMs. One project comprised the review of several studies of a multi-story building. These studies failed to adequately consider dust from a risk perspective, resulting in the provision of poor advice and cost-prohibitive solutions. The mere presence of a hazard may not constitute a risk. Another study is looking at concentrations in dust across a range of buildings which historically contained asbestos cement roofing. The project has involved the review of international approaches to select the most appropriate field sampling, laboratory methods and corresponding criteria to identify where remediation is necessary.
- AFFF – a client had proactively assessed the composition of their AFFF and found it not to contain (Per- and Polyfluaralkyl Substances) – this information proved invaluable following accidental release into a stormwater system. While managing the accidental release proved a costly exercise, having good scientific data confirming the absence of CoC assisted with regulatory negotiations and lessened the significance of the emergency response. Had the composition data not been available, the cost and significance of the release would have been higher.
Simon Hunt is a Technical Director and owner of EHS Support New Zealand Ltd with over 30 years of international environmental, health and safety management experience that has been gained in industry, as a consultant and contractor. Simon can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org