The Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), State Water Resources Control Board, and San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board have developed supplemental vapor intrusion guidance for conducting vapor intrusion evaluations in California. The Draft Supplemental Guidance: Screening and Evaluating Vapor Intrusion is available for review and public comment until 12:00 noon, April 30, 2020. Click here for available public meetings and comments.
According to the published Draft Supplemental Guidance: Screening and Evaluating Vapor Intrusion Executive Summary
Toxic vapors can move from contaminated groundwater and soil to indoor air. This process is called vapor intrusion. Vapors inside buildings can threaten human health. The science behind vapor intrusion has been evolving quickly. To protect the health of Californians, the DTSC and the California Water Boards drafted a supplement to the existing vapor intrusion guidance. This is important information to collect for environmental protection. This document is called the “Draft Supplemental Guidance: Screening and Evaluating Vapor Intrusion” (Draft Guidance). This Draft Guidance contains recommended improvements for vapor intrusion investigations and promotes consistency throughout the state. It also offers suggestions on the following topics:
The Draft Guidance is intended to be used with existing State guidance – DTSC 2011 Vapor Intrusion Guidance and San Francisco Bay Regional Water Board 2014 Interim Framework 1 – when there is a spill or disposal of vapor-forming chemicals. This guidance does not apply to any leaking petroleum underground storage tanks (USTs) since they are governed under the State Water Resources Control Board’s Low-Threat UST Case Closure Policy.
Four Steps to Evaluate Vapor Intrusion
The Draft Guidance describes four recommended steps to decide if there is vapor intrusion that could pose a risk to the health of people inside buildings. These actions are meant to protect public health and should be carried out under the oversight of the lead regulatory agency.
Step 1 – Decide which buildings should be tested first and how.
When there are several buildings, start with those that are occupied and closest to the contamination. If a building is directly above or very close to the spill, or if it is likely that the sewer could bring toxic vapors inside, skip Step 2 and go directly to Step 3.
Step 2 – Screen buildings from outside.
Measure vapor-forming chemicals underground at these locations:
Step 3 – Test indoor air.
Measure vapor-forming chemicals in indoor air, beneath the building’s foundation, and outdoor air at the same time:
Step 4 – Act to protect public health.
Toxic Vapors Can Travel Through Sewer Pipes
Vapor-forming chemicals can enter sewer pipes that run through contaminated soil or groundwater. Once inside a sewer, vapors can move through the pipes and escape through cracks or openings, under or inside a building. Some of the traditional ways to test for vapor intrusion could potentially miss vapor-forming chemicals moving through sewer pipes. This Draft Guidance recommends evaluating whether the sewer could bring toxic vapors inside.
Vapor Intrusion Attenuation Factors
Attenuation factors are used to estimate how much of the vapors underground or in groundwater end up in the indoor air. This Draft Guidance uses attenuation factors recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. These were calculated from a large study of buildings at contaminated sites around the nation, including California.
California Vapor Intrusion Database
Data from sites evaluated using the process described in the Draft Guidance will be entered into a database that will be publicly available. The State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) added capabilities to the GeoTracker database including building-specific information for a cleanup case and the ability to differentiate Field Points for collecting samples. The State will analyze the information in the database and learn how to better protect the people of California from vapor intrusion.
Where to Find the Draft Guidance
It is challenging to restore properties with a past, but you can do it on time and on budget if you plan ahead to address contaminated historic fill. Follow these tips and use the brownfield redevelopment checklist to keep your next redevelopment on track.
Consider how contaminated historic fill impacts the following:
Site feature locations – You can reduce or even eliminate landfill disposal costs by carefully selecting locations for your building, underground parking, parking lot, utility, and green space.
Storm water infiltration – Do you know that storm water infiltration devices must be located in areas free of contaminated historic fill? Infiltration devices cannot be located where contaminants of concern (as defined in s. NR 720.03(2)) are present in the soil through which the infiltration will occur.
Subslab vapor mitigation system – Already know you have contaminated historic fill on site? Consider adding a subslab vapor mitigation system to the design of your new building. It is usually much cheaper to install this system in a new building than to retrofit one into an existing building. It can also mitigate radon gas.
Planning & Design
Determine if contamination requires the following plans to manage the construction phase:
Material management plan – It establishes how you will separate excavated contaminated material from material that is not contaminated. It also outlines how you will handle contaminated material, either by disposing of it off site in a landfill or reusing it on site in an approved area such as a paved parking lot. This plan also covers screening, sampling, and testing contaminated materials, if required.
Dewatering plan – If the development requires excavation through contaminated historic fill to depths below groundwater, you will need a dewatering plan to properly manage discharge of the water. You may be able to discharge the water to the storm sewer or the sanitary sewer depending on the type and concentration of contaminants. You must determine local and state permit requirements before implementing your dewatering plan.
Demolition plan – The demolition plan for removing existing structures during redevelopment should include handling, removal, and disposal of potential contaminants such as lead and asbestos. The demolition plan should also address recycling and reuse of existing on site materials like concrete. You may be able to save money by crushing and reusing concrete on site as fill material, or by hauling and crushing it off site to reuse it as fill at another property. This approach can save you considerable money compared to landfill disposal.
Ready to start saving time and money addressing contaminated historic fill at your next redevelopment? Contact Ray Tierney for help evaluating your options in the Upper Midwest, or using the SCS Brownfield Redevelopment Checklist .
Learn more about these services at SCS Engineers; read our case studies and articles: