Environmental Tracers: An Underutilized Tool in Environmental Consulting?

I consider myself lucky to have come to environmental consulting through a couple of academic research detours; first at Columbia University in NYC then Southern Methodist University in Dallas. During my time at Columbia I worked with the Environmental Tracer Group within the Geochemistry department a Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO).  This was a great preparation for environmental consulting as our work at LDEO was directly related to understanding many of the same environmental fate and transport problems that we deal with nearly every day.  Working in the environmental tracer group at LDEO provided an opportunity to use state of the art tools for quantifying many environmental processes. We explored atmospheric transport, unsaturated zone processes, groundwater recharge and flow rates and surface water mixing and gas exchange. So why is it that, during a decade of working on Superfund and remediation sites and on litigation matters, I do not see tracers used more widely?

While there are some technical and financial considerations, a big part of the reason may be that these tools just aren’t that well known in the consulting community.  It may simply be that the “bang for the buck” or overall benefit of these methods is not clearly understood. So in my next blog posts on BSTI’s website, I’m planning to provide an overview of some environmental tracers and their uses:

Deliberate Tracers in Groundwater: Injection of tracers to track movement in fast moving groundwater systems.

  • Evaluating flow patterns in karst or other complex environments where travel times are short.
  • Injection of a tracer at an up gradient location during a pump test to determine aquifer and fate and transport properties.
  • Tracers injected during pilot testing of in-site remedies to evaluate distribution of treatment.

Deliberate Tracers in Surface water: Release of tracers to measure flow, mixing and gas exchange in surface waters.

  • Measure flow and mixing, for example in rivers or estuaries with complex tidal flow.
  • When using gas tracers, the loss to the atmosphere over time allows for determination of gas exchange rates. This is important which is of interest because the rate at which oxygen enters determines the quantity of oxidizable compounds which can be discharged to a water body without resulting in low oxygen conditions harmful to aquatic life.
  • Measurement of interaction with groundwater.

Transient Tracers for Recent Groundwater:  Measures the date at which groundwater entered the aquifer to within a few years.

  • Measurement of low levels of manmade dissolved gases and some radionuclides, allows you to determine when groundwater was last in contact with the atmosphere, or groundwater age.
  • With measurements at several locations or depths, you can then directly measure groundwater flow and recharge rates.
  • Useful to calibrate groundwater models.

Stable Isotope Tracers: Differentiate the same chemicals from different sources based on isotope composition.

  • Evaluate the sources of water, for example rainwater will have a different ratio of oxygen and hydrogen isotopes than melted snow.
  • Differentiate merged plumes of same chemical, for example two difference sources of PCE may have different chlorine or carbon isotope ratios.
  • Likewise, the same metals released into the environment by two different processes may have different isotopic signatures allowing the origin to be distinguished.

What else peaks your interest? Tracers for quantifying groundwater/surface water interaction, sediment dating, unsaturated zone transport or bubble mediated gas exchange? The tools are out there and I’d love to hear about the applications that are of interest.

Nick Santella is BSTI’s Principal Geochemist. He may be reached for questions or comments at (nsantella@bstiweb.com) or by phone at 610-593-5500.

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Help It or Hurt It: How are Environmental Matters Going to Affect Your Growth or Exit Strategy?

 

How can foresight and management of environmental matters be leveraged for better outcomes in business mergers, acquisitions and facility divestitures?

Gain useful insight in the slideshow below from our presentation at the Eastern Energy Expo:

 

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact either John Kollmeier of BSTI (610.593.5500 or jkollmeier@bstiweb.com) or Grant E. Nichols of JLT (720.501.2800 or Grant.Nichols@jltus.com).

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Where Does Your Food Come From?

By and large, most people in the US are quite fortunate to have access to a wide variety of foods from all over the world no matter what the season. Although this is a cultural norm, have you ever stopped to think about where your food is coming from and how your choices impact the environment and your local farmers?

 

It is estimated that the average American meal travels about 1500 miles to get from farm to plate.

market-food-come-fromWhy is this cause for concern?

This long-distance, large-scale transportation of food consumes large quantities of fossil fuels. It is estimated that we currently put almost 10 kcal of fossil fuel energy into our food system for every 1 kcal of energy we get as food. Simply put, that is not an efficient energy exchange.

Transporting food over long distances also generates great quantities of carbon dioxide emissions. Some forms of transport are more polluting than others. Airfreight generates 50 times more CO2 than shipping by boat. Since boats are slow, and in our increasing demand for fresh food, food is increasingly being shipped by faster, more polluting means.

 

 

The Benefits of Eating Local and Seasonal Foods

In an effort to decrease the amount of energy used in food transportation, many Americans have been transitioning to support their local food systems by increasing their spending at local farmers’ markets. We can eat locally and seasonally with very little sacrifice. Still, some crops simply aren’t appropriate for our climate but we can begin to look at imported foods as things that supplement our local foods, rather than supplant them. Rebuilding a local food system doesn’t mean you never eat anything that has flown overseas, it just means that you start with what is fresh, local and seasonal. Shopping at the farmers’ market, maintaining a home garden, or participating in a community-supported agriculture program (CSA) are wonderful ways to support your local food system. At the same time, we help build food security for future generations; feed ourselves and our families food that is delicious, fresh, and nutritious; and support small-scale local farmers as they work each day to steward our land.

 

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Groundwater and Your Business: Learn Why You Should Be Celebrating Protect Your Groundwater Day

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Prezi Screenshot - protect your groundwater day
How can we help? Click the image above to learn more.

September 6, 2016, just happens to be “Protect Your Groundwater Day!” Created by the National Groundwater Association (NGWA), Protect Your Groundwater Day is a day for everyone to celebrate the importance of groundwater and the impact it has on our everyday lives. So just what is groundwater and why is it important to you and more specifically your business?

 

Groundwater is the water found underground within the cracks and crevices of rocks and sand or within the soil. It is common to assume that there is an endless amount of groundwater/freshwater available to us, however only 1% of all the water on Earth is usable by humans. With that in mind, it is important for us not only to conserve water but also protect it from contaminants – especially when impacting groundwater from production can result in a costly cleanup project.

 

 

Why should a business pay attention to groundwater?

 

Like everyday people, industry is also dependent on groundwater. Groundwater provides about 18% of an industry’s fresh water (an economic value estimated at $2.7 billion), so the importance of clean groundwater to businesses is hard to overestimate. Inefficient use of groundwater costs money in terms of energy for pumping it and costs for treating and disposing of it after use. Likewise, accidental contamination of groundwater threatens a vital business resource. Many of our commercial and industrial clients only become aware of groundwater quality issues when they showed up in their own potable wells. When that happens, treatment of potable water becomes an additional expense on top of the environmental liabilities associated with remediation.

 

 

What can you do to protect your groundwater?

 

As noted on the NGWA website, you can protect groundwater by preventing its contamination by human activities and using it wisely. Complying with current State and Federal regulations on use and storage of chemicals, petroleum products and fertilizers goes a long way towards reducing the risk of groundwater contamination. Beyond legal requirements, it’s helpful to develop good housekeeping practices and a workplace culture that avoids shortcuts; especially with chemical handling. Water conservation is a vast topic, but it all starts with tracking your existing usage then developing practical and realistic goals for improvement.

 

Happy Protect Your Groundwater Day!

 

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When Guidance Becomes Rule

Guidance Becomes Rule

I outlined before what makes a great guidance document, but that doesn’t automatically make the guidance a rule.

 

Guidance documents which standardize a set of procedures are typically not only relevant, but may even be required by policy or law. Federal law and policies, such as the Office of Management and Budget Circular A-119 (revised January 2016), even require federal agencies to refer to standards by “incorporation by reference” rather than recreating the material in federal code. In such cases, these “Voluntary Consensus Standards (VCS)” become law. A-119 expands not only on the federal government’s reliance on VCSs, but also encourages participation in the development process.  A-119 also requires that VCS’s which are incorporated by reference be developed in an open and balanced system and be considered for the costs associated with accessing the documents. Some standard development organizations, such as ASTM, have made available such referenced standards free to the public.

 

State and local regulatory agencies may also rely on industry guidance documents in their corresponding regulations. Most do not have policies or procedures regarding incorporation by reference, so it is imperative that these documents be reviewed during promulgation or when the public has an opportunity to review and comment. Regardless of the referring agency, complications may rise when these documents are not updated or where references included in those documents are out of date.

 

Finally, industry guidance may be written to support federal, state or local regulation but not necessarily referenced in the regulation. These may be state guidance documents, industry documents, or even peer-reviewed journals. Although not rule by reference, these documents sometimes become the “common law” simply by widespread industry acceptance. Users of these documents should be aware of their limitations, the process in which they were created and the frequency in which they are updated. Although useful for potentially predictive outcomes, these documents may be flexible and or open to challenge.

 

Guidance becomes the rule when either regulatory agencies refer to them in such a way or when widespread acceptance makes them the norm.

 

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Complete Your Written Hurricane Plan – Hurricane Preparedness Week

Rochelle Brittingham

Storm - Complete Your Written Hurricane Plan - Hurricane Preparedness Week

Preparing for disasters is just as important for business as individuals, as many families’ livelihoods can depend on a business keeping its doors open. Business continuity planning often focuses on IT and data preservation for good reason, but think through all aspects with some of the many resources available online and through emergency management offices in your state.

 

Every business should go through planning steps to be prepared. Investing effort into a preparedness program can save time and money in the long run. But once a plan is in place, don’t forget to test it. Testing identifies crucial gaps in planning as well as determining what just doesn’t work. Because – let’s face it – it’s easier to fix problems and make improvements without a hurricane bearing down on you.

 

Items one should potentially keep in mind while planning:Trim Trees - Complete Your Written Hurricane Plan - Hurricane Preparedness Week

  • Does everyone have everyone else’s contact information?
  • What if people can’t get to the office? Can people work from home in certain instances?
  • Are certain people responsible for securing equipment or doing particular tasks? Do they know it’s their responsibility?
  • Have you done a site search on things that could damage your business or infrastructure (e.g. are tree branches away from the roof and power lines)?
  • Are there supplies available to board up windows or keep water from breaching the structure(s)?
  • Does it make sense to have agreements in place with other companies in order to help your business out if assistance is needed? Power companies come to one another’s aid when damage is extensive. Do you have companies you would rely on to help you get back on your feet?

 

While some environmental planning requirements may touch on natural hazards (e.g. SPCC), best practices can go beyond legal requirements. For instance, EPA has begun to provide guidance on considering climate change in remedial design. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection – Site Remediation Program will shortly be releasing a new guidance document titled Planning for and Response to Catastrophic Events at Contaminated Sites. This guidance (which includes content written and developed by Brownfield Science and Technology’s Nicholas Santella) discusses planning to increase the resilience of operations at remediation sites in the face of catastrophic events.

 

Write a Plan - Complete Your Written Hurricane Plan - Hurricane Preparedness WeekFinally, businesses should encourage their employees to make a plan. Employees should plan on having items that address their specific needs, such as medications or other personal requirements. Going through the process of planning helps people to decide what they need to have with them if they are required to evacuate, as well as if they needed to shelter-in-place. Planning also serves a dual purpose when employees discuss with their families what supplies are needed at home and what needs to be taken to work to prepare for being cut-off from daily services.

 

For more resources on planning for a hurricane, visit NOAA online:

http://www.nws.noaa.gov/com/weatherreadynation/news/160404_hurricane_prepare.html

 

 
Rochelle Brittingham PhD, MPA is an expert in emergency management with a focus on planning for the needs of people with disabilities or access and functional needs during disasters. She has over 10 years of experience in social work, grant writing and community outreach. Currently, she is employed at the University of Delaware Center for Disabilities Studies. She is also a Delaware Community Emergency Response Team instructor.

 

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Identify Your Trusted Sources of Information for a Hurricane Event – Hurricane Preparedness Week

SuperCell - Hurricane Preparedness Week - Trusted Sources of Information

Take simple steps to keep you alerted.

 

Staying aware of developing weather is critical to taking timely action for the safety of personnel and property. Tracking weather may not be high on your list of priorities during a busy workday, so take the time now to make sure that information will come to you when you need it.

 

Text Message Alert - Hurricane Preparedness Week - Trusted Sources of Information
Get emergency alerts sent directly to your phone.

Be sure to activate emergency alerts if available on your phone.

Every phone is different, so there isn’t one simple way to turn on alerts. Refer to the phone’s user manual or use the internet to search how to allow emergency alerts to be sent to your phone.

 

Consider getting a NOAA radio and programming it to receive alarms for your county.

NOAA radios are available online or in many stores. Learn more about NOAA weather radio at: http://www.nws.noaa.gov/nwr/

 

Sign up for text and email alerts.

A number of third party services allow you to subscribe to National Weather Service alerts and warnings by email and text message, so consider using the following link to sign up for a service: http://www.weather.gov/subscribe

You can also sign up for alerts based on USGS stream gauge data, a good idea if you have a site vulnerable to inland flooding:  http://water.usgs.gov/wateralert/

 

 

 

For additional sources, check out:

http://www.nws.noaa.gov/com/weatherreadynation/news/160404_hurricane_info.html

Bookmark the links most relevant to you so you can find them easily the next time bad weather threatens.

 

 

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Strengthen Your Business – Hurricane Preparedness Week

Strengthen Your Business - Hurricane Preparedness Week

NOAA mentions the importance of strengthening your home if you plan to ride out a storm, but a business owner needs to remember to prepare a second abode for bad weather: the workplace. It’s important to make sure your building is strong enough to hold up against a natural disaster. Vulnerable businesses and other sites can be retrofitted to be less vulnerable to hurricane damage in similar ways to homes.  An important and relatively inexpensive measure is to elevate critical equipment such as utilities or IT infrastructure above projected flood levels. In highly vulnerable or especially critical structures, installation of flood barriers may be a good investment now to save you in the future.

 

Tank - Strengthen Your Business - Hurricane Preparedness WeekOne hazard often unrecognized in both homes and businesses is the threat from hazardous or flammable materials stored in areas that could flood, most commonly stored heating fuel. Above-ground storage tanks (ASTs), propane tanks of all sizes and other small-scale chemical stores are often lost in flooding events. Even underground storage tanks (USTs) can be vulnerable to buoyancy induced damage or water infiltration during flood events. However, if planned for ahead of time, it is possible to anchor tanks and other storage vessels with cables or tie downs and move small vessels to secure storage areas so they don’t float away.

 

 

For more ideas on how to strengthen your home or business against a hurricane, visit:

http://www.flash.org/peril_hurricanes.php

 

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Assemble Disaster Supplies – Hurricane Preparedness Week

Rochelle Brittingham

 

Hurricane Sandy - Assemble Disaster Supplies - Hurricane Preparedness Week
Photo courtesy of R. Brittingham and the Disaster Research Center (University of Delaware). Fire damaged blocked assess after Hurricane Sandy in the Far Rockaways.

 

Every business needs to be stocked and ready.

 

 

It is important to have disaster supplies available year-round.

The days leading up to hurricane landfall allow for businesses, as well as employees, to finish obtaining supplies and getting items that may be more specific to certain needs (as discussed in FEMA’s Emergency Preparedness documents), but waiting until last minute may be too late. There is no telling how long regular services will be disrupted and what sort of damage an area may experience. Being caught unaware or unprepared can cost a company time and money.

 

 

Hurricane Sandy 2 - Assemble Disaster Supplies - Hurricane Preparedness Week
Photo courtesy of R. Brittingham and the Disaster Research Center (University of Delaware). Disrupted infrastructure in the Far Rockaways after Hurricane Sandy.

Test your emergency equipment before it is needed.

Businesses that have ride out crews – crews that remain to ensure critical infrastructure continues functioning during a hurricane at such businesses as refineries, chemical plants, etc. – may be more likely to ensure disaster supplies are on hand year-round for unexpected disaster events. Critical infrastructure and services that should not go down during disasters, such as powering flood control measures, rely on redundant systems and back-ups. Generators become crucial to keeping important electrical functions running during power outages (as experienced during the power outages caused by Hurricane Sandy) and should be tested ahead of time for days, not just a few hours. Murphy’s law says a generator isn’t going to fail during the first few hours; if it fails, it’s going to fail on day two of a four-day event without power.

 

 

Be prepared for a company sleepover.

For other businesses that find they may not usually need to have crews available to oversee infrastructure, businesses should still evaluate whether they are prepared to have employees shelter-in-place at the work location. There needs to be enough supplies on hand for everyone, and business owners need to be able to communicate with their employees. A company may unexpectedly face the possibility that employees are unable to get home safely due to flooding or find employees are unable to travel back and forth to work due to impassable roads. In cases like that, having supplies on hand is critical to remaining operational.

 

 
Rochelle Brittingham PhD, MPA is an expert in emergency management with a focus on planning for the needs of people with disabilities or access and functional needs during disasters. She has over 10 years of experience in social work, grant writing and community outreach. Currently, she is employed at the University of Delaware Center for Disabilities Studies. She is also a Delaware Community Emergency Response Team instructor.

 

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Secure an Insurance Checkup – Hurricane Preparedness Week

Dennis Hollatz blog filled

 

Flooding - Insurance - Hurricane Preparedness Week

Weather the Storm Financially with an Insurance Checkup

Profit, growth and stability are common businesses goals at risk when a natural disaster can demolish what may have taken generations to build. Many successful businesses transfer this risk through an insurance policy. The policy is a contract that should be periodically reviewed to help assure the needs of a business are covered.

 

One of the perils from a hurricane is flood.

Business Flooding - Insurance - Hurricane Preparedness WeekThe standard insurance property policy does not generally cover damage from the rising waters of a flood. A policy to cover this gap in coverage is available where floodplain management regulations apply through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.  These policies are purchased from a licensed property insurance agent or broker authorized to issue the coverage.

 

Basic building flood insurance coverage goes up to $500,000 to repair or replace the insured building and its foundation, and other equipment such as electrical and plumbing systems, central air conditioning, furnaces and water heaters. The building contents such as tools, machinery and equipment will need to be covered with a separate flood policy. Higher limits of insurance might be available with an excess flood policy purchased outside of the NFIP policy. Discuss with your agent about the coverage types and limits of coverage needed.

 

Business owners and residents who own property in high-risk areas are required to purchase flood insurance if they have a mortgage from a federally regulated or insured lender. A policy could be purchased for just about any location, even for those outside of a flood zone.  Locations less vulnerable to flooding are often eligible to purchase a policy at a much lower price.

 

Waiting until the last minute to purchase flood insurance is too late. There is a thirty-day waiting period, so you can’t purchase flood insurance just before the big storm and then cancel after the storm passes.

 

Other hurricane damages to property can result from high winds, wind-driven rain, hail and lightning which is usually covered under the standard property policy. However, many insurers have applied exclusions in some areas, so this also should be discussed with your agent.

 

 

Many businesses never reopen following a major disaster.

There is no revenue generated, but the bills keep coming. Employees may be unavailable to work when families are hurt or homes are destroyed. A damaged piece of machinery could be hard to replace and reduce productivity. Insurance is available to cover the loss of income from business interruption, however, this is usually not covered when the loss is caused by a flood.  On the other hand, there might be coverage if the terms in the policy will pay when civil authorities order an evacuation. Read your policy and ask questions.

 

A few questions to ask:

  • What flood zone is the business in?
  • What will and won’t be covered in case of flood damage?
  • What coverage options are available?
  • How is the property valued: according to replacement cost or a depreciated actual cash value?
  • How is underground property like basements, vaults and tanks covered?
  • If needing to rebuild, is building ordinance coverage provided to upgrade to building code?
  • How are extra expenses covered?
  • Is there a coinsurance penalty?
  • Are contents coverage limits adequate?
  • How is the company’s income from operations that rely on another entity covered?

 

 

Dennis Hollatz has over 30 years of insurance industry experience. He is currently a staff consultant for field services and risk management of commercial business insurance exposures at Federated Insurance.

 

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