Expert Q&A: Jay Peters on risk assessment

Expert Q&A:  Jay Peters on risk assessment

Jay Peters is Risk Assessment Technical Expert at Haley & Aldrich. He has more than 20 years’ experience as a risk assessor and has managed large and complex projects for state and federal Superfund and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) sites as well as brownfield redevelopment and property transfer sites in more than 20 states and seven EPA regions.

What’s the idea behind risk assessment of contaminated sites? Isn’t all contamination bad?

Yes, all contamination is by definition bad. But the threat it poses to people and other living things – what we call “biological receptors” – varies tremendously based on the toxicity of the contaminant, its concentration, proximity to population, groundwater transport patterns, and so on.

For example, a highly carcinogenic substance in a high concentration in groundwater that is not used as a drinking water source poses far less risk than a significantly less toxic contaminant at even trace concentrations in a public water supply.

So risk assessment looks at how much cleanup is needed for a particular case?

Correct. Or put another way, risk assessment is the recognition that sometimes a less extreme cleanup response can achieve the same net result in terms of actual protection of public health and the environment as a more complete cleanup costing ten or a hundred times more. What we’re trying to do is get the maximum possible value out of the money spent for remediation.

Give us an idea of an alternative to total cleanup.

Say you have a property with metal contamination in soil from a former plating operation that is being considered for a multi-use redevelopment as residential, commercial, and open space. While a total cleanup to achieve residential use of the entire property would probably involve trucking the contaminated soil elsewhere as hazardous waste, the best path might be to use a risk-based assessment to align the redevelopment with areas acceptable for residential use in combination with deed restrictions and ground cover systems to avoid costly off-site soil disposal.

So, is risk assessment a pretty cut-and-dried science, or is there more to it than that?

Many firms treat it like a checklist kind of thing, but Haley & Aldrich takes a much more active approach. It’s really about providing options for our clients. We’re always looking at the big picture - what will result in the best value for the client and for this particular property? We look for not-so-obvious solutions and provide a richer set of options to our clients.

Do you have an example?

Here’s an example of something that happens quite frequently. A paint manufacturer had a risk assessment specialty firm look into a case where the manufacturer’s actions led to pollution in a stream and the determination was a recommended $10 million cleanup.

This was based on presumed harm to certain species of wildlife. When we reviewed that firm’s recommendation, we found that the species in question were not present in that environment! In other words, the first firm’s checklist was inaccurate. Because there was no damage, no cleanup was required.

For more information about Risk Assessment, contact Jay Peters.