Recent changes to regulatory guidance in California are arguably making obtaining closure on sites with vapor intrusion health risk concerns more difficult to achieve. The Draft Cal-EPA Supplemental Vapor Intrusion Guidance (DSVIG) suggests changes to the methods in which vapor phase transport and potential health risks are modeled and calculated for occupants of buildings with known soil or groundwater contamination beneath them. These changes, which result from a multi-year working group collaboration, recommend a more extensive and site-specific data collection effort. They include indoor air quality calculation methods relying on EPA work and guidance and empirically derived attenuation factors (AFs) which some would argue lead to overestimating potential health risks.
The consequences of the DSVIG are potentially significant if adopted as is and appear likely to result in more sites being “screened in” with vapor intrusion issues and more sites requiring mitigation. The impact, resultant costs, and possibly detrimental secondary effects include decreases in affordable housing production, particularly in urban infill areas. And while none would argue with appropriate protection of health risk, the question is whether the studies and empirical data used to support the DSVIG represents the best available science and is truly representative and predictive of risk.
The DSVIG adopts an attenuation rate of 0.03 for the flux of both soil and sub-slab vapor to indoor air based on a previous 2012 EPA Study comprised of empirical data collected from buildings arguably not representative of modern construction in California. The development of a reliable screening level attenuation factor for California based on high-quality, recent, California-specific data:
1) Will be protective of human health, as no toxicological imperative or basis supports a call for accelerated or immediate action (as evidenced by the fact that the DSVIG workgroup commenced its work in 2014 and issued the review draft in 2020).
2) Will ensure California’s environmental policy satisfies the gold standard for data quality and insightful analysis in which the state once took pride.
3) Will not unnecessarily decimate the California housing development market. The empirically derived screening level AF in the DSVIG is overly conservative based on the available data. More accurate empirical data and measurement methods for site-specific measurement are available.
Oversimplifying the VI health risk assessment methods has constrained the environmental community’s ability to apply science-based health risk screenings, often resulting in costs associated with additional environmental assessment and mitigation. An additional revision to the DSVIG to utilize a screening level AF more reflective of the current California data and building specifications could save state resources, increase infill development by reducing urban sprawl, promote housing development, all while protecting human health.
Take a deeper dive into this topic in the Daily Transcript article Vapor intrusion rules hamper infill projects.