One of the determining factors as far as how an environmental regulatory agency prioritizes contaminated sites is based on the probability that people in the area will be exposed to or come into contact with toxic chemicals.
There are 3 primary pathways through which people might come into contact with toxic chemicals. They are by inhaling chemicals that have been volatized from contaminated groundwater or soil, by getting contaminated soil or groundwater on their skin, or by eating or drinking contaminated groundwater or soil. Once it has been determined that any of these 3 potential pathways to exposure has been completed, the need to immediately abate exposure to these chemicals becomes a priority. This can happen before the extent of the potential impact has been totally defined.
Vapor intrusion (VI) is a process where the chemicals that are present in groundwater or in the soil migrate to the indoor air that is in a structure that had been built on top of a contaminated site.
The first VI studies of regulated environmental cleanup sites happened in 1989. Nearly a decade had passed before the first guidance to assist vapor intrusion investigation was issued by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued its first draft on vapor intrusion in 2002. Through 2004 very few states had released any vapor intrusion documents and the ones that did were primarily based on the 2002 Unites States EPA VI Guidance report.
ASTM International released the “Standard Practice for the Assessment of Vapor Intrusion into Structures on Property Involved in Real Estate Transactions,” (ASTM E 2600-08) on March 3, 2008.
It can be quite difficult to assess who might inhale impacted vapors that have emanated from subsurface impacts.
Perc is a very volatile chemical, is used in the dry cleaning industry. If it is in the soil it can migrate through it and any bedrock and then make its way into structures that are occupied.
Because regulatory agencies are now assessing VI issues that are related to Perc, it is on the mind of almost every dry cleaner site where groundwater or soil contamination was identified. The top priority at these sites is to eliminate any ongoing exposure to Perc.
Individual states in the U.S. deal with vapor intrusion in different ways. Because of this fact it is difficult for a consensus to be reached by regulators around the country as to places that need to be investigated for VI and even how vapor intrusion exposure pathways should be investigated.
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