EPA Vapor Guide Could Mean Big Testing, Cleanup Costs

April 25, 2013 – In The News

Christopher Roe was quoted in the Law360 article, "EPA Vapor Guide Could Mean Big Testing, Cleanup Costs." While the full text can be found in the April 26, issue of Law360, a synopsis is noted below.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released the waste management guidelines last week, calling for public comment on the document before it is finalized later this year. The 200-page guidance sets out a framework for assessing the risks of vapor intrusion and determining when site managers should take action.

Roe, whose firm was one of the groups petitioning the EPA to release the guidance and allow public input, called the document “a substantial change and effectively a rewrite” of EPA's approach to vapor intrusion in its last draft 11 years ago. That guidance document was released for public comment in 2002 but never finalized.

Roe said the latest version raises several concerns, particularly regarding sampling requirements at Superfund sites and other locations that are being evaluated by the EPA. The current language calls for extensive testing at every stage in the process that could go on long past what would be considered a reasonable period of time, according to Roe.

The EPA emphasizes that “several rounds of sampling are often needed” to develop an understanding of a potential vapor intrusion problem at any given site, including testing of indoor air, outdoor air, soil gas, groundwater and the area beneath floor slabs.

“This guidance stresses the use of multiple rounds of sampling from multiple locations and, potentially, consideration of vapor intrusion at multiple points in investigations,” Roe said. “The implications of that approach need to be fully evaluated. For all stakeholders, there is a need for a point at which you can reasonably say that vapor intrusion is not an issue.”

The agency also seems to have given too much credence to vapor intrusion as a source of human indoor exposure to volatile hazardous chemicals, according to Roe. The second page of the guidance claims that vapor intrusion is “widely recognized” as a potentially significant threat to human health.

“This may overstate the role vapor intrusion plays in exposing people to volatile chemicals in our society,” Roe said. “And inclusion of this type of statement in the guidance may make fair communication about risks associated with vapor intrusion more difficult.”

The EPA seems genuinely willing to consider outside input before making the draft guidance final, which is important according to Roe, because the government could gain a better understanding of the issues by hearing from stakeholders who will have the deal with the implications of the guidelines.

“I'm sure that EPA has done a good job of getting input internally,” Roe said. “But there are a lot of smart people with a lot of experience outside of the agency itself whose input would help add an appropriate balance.”