Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluroalkyl substances (PFAS) and other emerging contaminants are becoming increasingly important for real estate transactions. Several states have adopted or proposed health guidelines or Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) for PFAS in their state. States with adopted limits include CA, CT, CO, MN, NC, NH, NJ, and VT; and states with proposed limits include IL, MA, MI, and NY. You can track bills by state here.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are focusing their attention on these contaminants. The WDNR recently issued letters to more than 3,000 responsible parties listed with open cases on the DNR’s Bureau for Remediation and Redevelopment Tracking System (BRRTS) requesting they review PFAS use at open sites. Read a sample of the DNR letter.
With WDNR’s increasing focus on PFAS, a lack of sufficient due diligence, which includes evaluations for PFAS, could lead to significant additional liability for property purchasers, developers, and lenders. In addition, a lack of sufficient assessment could lead to a delay in case closure even after responsible parties have addressed all other contaminants and potential exposure pathways at a site. A sufficient assessment for PFAS will depend on site-specific factors and should carefully consider the associated risks and liabilities.
For real estate buyers, owners, developers, lenders, brokers, and contractors the potential presence of PFAS at a property presents significant liabilities that need to be incorporated into due diligence procedures and safe work plans. The investigation and remediation of sites with PFAS contamination can be expensive, and the WDNR is working to define enforceable cleanup goals for soil and groundwater.
PFAS are often referred to as “forever chemicals” due to their inability to be broken down in the environment. Due to the very high toxicity of PFAS, the proposed groundwater standard is extremely low – in the parts per trillion, which is more than 100 times lower than the groundwater standards for other well-known toxic contaminants such as benzene from gasoline or tetrachloroethylene commonly used at dry cleaners and industrial facilities.
PFAS are found in a wide variety of products, including nonstick coatings (e.g., Teflon), water-repellent coatings used on clothing and food packaging, fume suppressants, and firefighting foams. Potential sources of PFAS include many types of manufacturing and processing facilities, locations where firefighting foams have been used, metal plating facilities, wastewater treatment plants, and many more.
PFAS systems can treat and clean sources and remediation solutions by environmental engineers can bring properties back to life; safe to build and live on.
Historic fill is common on properties that were once rural and have become prime redevelopment sites as communities expanded. The fill may include contaminated materials like foundry sand, ash, demo and construction debris, and even municipal waste. In the past, these materials were used to fill wetlands or change the grade of the property before initial development. Today regulations have evolved, and state agencies require property owners to manage these materials appropriately during redevelopment. Also, particular types of historic fill are often not robust enough to structurally support your new building.
There are many different kinds of fill materials – each with different physical properties and different potential contaminants. Knowing what is on your property before you start designing the site layout, and certainly, before you start digging, will help you plan your project to save time and money, and to receive state agency approval.
Before You Buy
The more you know about the property and the earlier you know it, the better prepared you will be to make decisions about how best to protect yourself from potential environmental liabilities and prepare for the environmental and geotechnical issues that historic fill can cause. Since every property is unique, the first thing you need to do is gain a thorough understanding of the property’s history and past use. Invest in a comprehensive Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment (ESA). Consider it a starting point for clues about the possible types and amounts of historic fill which may be present on the property.
If the results of the Phase 1 ESA warrant it, conduct a Phase 2 ESA and geotechnical study to collect soil, fill, groundwater, and soil vapor samples. The Phase 2 ESA and geotechnical studies will help you understand if fill and contaminants are present and the best options for addressing them during the development planning stage.
Historic fill on a property is no longer the impediment to development that it once was. Take these steps to get ahead of potentially contaminated historic fill, and keep your project on time and budget.
By testing early, performing a proper geotechnical evaluation, and incorporating design adaptations where needed, you can successfully develop projects with historic fill within your schedule and without breaking your budget.
SCS professionals are available to answer questions or concerns you may have pertaining to commercial, residential, or private development on brownfields – we provide remediation, brownfields, and Environmental Due Diligence services nationwide. Contact or one of our experts.
About the author: Ray Tierney
Ray Tierney, PG, is a Vice President of SCS Engineers and one of our National Experts on Sustainability. He has 30 years of experience in environmental and sustainability engineering and has helped a wide range of organizations control and reduce their legacy environmental impacts and liabilities, lower their costs, obtain grants and permits to expand, and implement cost-saving practices. Ray serves the Midwest region and projects throughout the U.S.
JohnTabella, PG, LEED AP®, is SCS Engineers National Expert for Environmental Due Diligence and for Federal Services. In this capacity, he oversees all aspects of environmental services opportunities and projects primarily throughout the eastern seaboard and supports on opportunities and projects throughout the U.S.
Floyd Cotter specializes in solid waste management projects. His project work involves all areas of solid waste management including planning, permitting, transportation, landfill design, construction, and monitoring. Floyd is also experienced in general civil engineering, construction oversight, environmental site assessments, closure and post-closure plans, and permit and contract document preparation. Floyd is located in the Central region.
Randy Bauer has nearly 3 decades of experience conducting environmental site assessments, subsurface investigations, groundwater monitoring programs, soil and groundwater remediation, and geotechnical investigations at industrial hazardous waste and solid waste facilities. Randy is available to answer questions on the western seaboard.
When Virtual Care Providers, Inc. (VCPI) set out to sell their company, David Bartlett, VCPI Chief Financial Officer, thought they had their environmental due diligence squared away. “We did our due diligence in 2006 when we purchased the property,” said Bartlett. “Unfortunately we discovered that the original Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) missed some potential issues.”
To complete the sale, VCPI needed to conduct a new Phase 1 assessment. That’s when David hired SCS Engineers to help VCPI through the environmental due diligence process. “When Ray Tierney and his team went through the Phase 1 process, they discovered there was something there. The original Phase 1 from our prior consultant missed some things.”
Long before it was a data center, the property owner used hazardous chemicals in their manufacturing process. As part of that process, they stored some of the chemicals on the exterior of the property. Although the chemicals had been removed long ago, some of them had spilled onto unpaved areas. While VCPI had no knowledge of the property’s prior use when they bought it, SCS Engineers uncovered detailed records and photos of the chemical storage in state agency files.
“Of course the parties involved in the sale were concerned about these past issues and the impact they could have on the sale and ongoing use of the property,” Bartlett confirmed. “We initiated a Phase 2 to gain clarification. Then we worked with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) to get the property closed.” In the end, no active remediation was required. However, these steps were necessary to get the WDNR to grant site closure.
“Being in this situation was painful,” Bartlett admitted. “But SCS Engineers’ integrity shone through in every step and was absolutely critical. Everyone that I worked with at SCS Engineers gave us peace of mind that the steps we took weren’t just to pad pocketbooks. Ray’s team showed us how each step in the process was necessary to get us past the problems, on to resolution, and on to the successful sale of our company. I completely trusted the information SCS Engineers gave us.”
“Without Ray and his team, we never would have been able to expedite the process. We simply didn’t have the connections or the relationships with the WDNR to move it along. SCS Engineers’ familiarity with the process and relationships with the WDNR really helped speed us to resolution, which allowed us to move forward with the sale of our business.”
“I don’t know what would have happened or how long it would have taken without SCS Engineers’ expertise. The depth and breadth of their knowledge shed light on issues I wasn’t aware of. Not only did Ray’s team help us uncover the issues, they gave us a plan to determine the extent of those issues and helped show us how to move past them. Their expertise, knowledge, and guidance were critical.”
VCPI kept the sale of their business on track and closed on December 22, 2016.
Thank you for your kind letter, Mr. Bartlett. We were happy to help resolve the issues leading to the sale and the safe ongoing use of the property by its new owner.