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Don’t Fear the Vapor

Hazards surround us every day. From sharing the road with my teenage son (best give him room) to the foods we eat (E. Coli with your romaine?), to the hands we shake (pre-COVID of course), everything has risks. Managing these risks is what allows us to focus on family, fun, and work (even if not always in that order). Environmental risk management is no different.

For the past two decades, vapor intrusion has been the exposure pathway of greatest concern with environmental contamination when compared to groundwater ingestion and soil exposure.  This is easy to understand. As direct groundwater ingestion in metropolitan and industrialized areas is increasingly less common given municipally managed drinking water.

Similarly, direct exposure to contaminated soils is an exposure pathway easily managed through removal and/or engineering controls. So, this leaves vapor intrusion as the exposure pathway with the greatest potential.

Don’t fear the vapor (queue Blue Oyster Cult soundtrack).

An always-changing vapor intrusion industry

The science of characterizing chemical vapor intrusion pathways continues to evolve. However, the science behind mitigating intrusion has been underway since the residential radon industry originated almost 40 years ago.

Today, this already mature industry continues to evolve. This is demonstrated by the national consensus standards promulgated by the American Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists (AARST) through the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).

These standards are our guide as to the methods of radon and soil gas mitigation in single-family homes (SGM-SF-2017), multi-family buildings (RMS-MF-2018), large building/schools (RMS-LB-2018), and in New Construction (CC-1000-2018).  They give a great deal of detail on how to design, install, and verify performance of soil gas mitigation systems to protect the building occupants.

Don’t fear the vapor. 

Environmental risk and liability

A recent article regarding California updates to vapor intrusion screening criteria identified the criteria as impeding Brownfield redevelopment of contaminated areas. While potential vapor intrusion should be addressed in Brownfield redevelopment, it does not need to prevent it from happening.

Under the 2001 Brownfield Amendments to CERCLA, a bona fide protective purchaser (BFPP) is shielded from liability for cleaning up historical contamination. This makes Brownfield redevelopments financially feasible. The BFPP provision does require the purchaser to exercise appropriate care to limit continued human exposure.

Administrative controls on contaminated soil (soil management plan) and groundwater (usage restriction) are typical “due care” acts to protect exposure to these media. This is assuming significant off-site contamination migration has occurred.

So, this leaves the vapor inhalation exposure pathway. While mitigating vapor intrusion has financial implications, it generally pales in comparison to measures required to control off-site migration of groundwater or excavation/disposal of contaminated groundwater. This makes vapor intrusion the most manageable exposure pathway. 

Don’t fear the vapor. 

Better environmental risk management is possible

Once a vapor mitigation solution is in place, due care of operation, maintenance, and monitoring (OM&M) is needed to make sure the system continues to protect building occupants.

The Vapor Sentinel Remote Monitoring (VSRM) system greatly simplifies this OM&M by providing 24/7/365 monitoring of system performance. The monitoring system immediately notifies stakeholders of a problem with the system (e.g. building maintenance, building tenants, regulators, etc.). 

The VSRM user interface is customizable to each stakeholder. It provides only the information needed for their role. In addition to current performance data, the system also provides historical performance data. Historical data can be critical evidence for legally defending that occupants were, are, and will be continuously protected against exposure to hazardous soil gases.

With Vapor Sentinel Remote Monitoring keeping watch, there is no need to worry about risks of vapor intrusion. Vapor Sentinel makes it possible to move redevelopment projects forward while satisfying standard requirements and protecting building occupants around the clock.

Don’t fear the vapor.

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Erase the Lung Cancer Stigma

Protect Environmental partnered with Breath of Hope KY to participate in the WHO Health for All Film Festival, submitting our project to the “Better Health and Well-Being” category. Our project focuses on the story of radon and the lung cancer stigma. By raising awareness that anyone with lungs can get lung cancer and encouraging people to test for radon, we believe we are advocating for better health and well-being for all. We are excited to have been a part of this annual World Health Organization event alongside over 1200 other film submissions from 110 countries. 

Radon doesn’t discriminate.

Radon – a naturally occurring radioactive gas. Many people are not aware that they have been exposed to radon because it is not something you can see, taste, or smell. Without these warning signs, radon often goes undetected. The US Environmental Protection Agency reports that more than 21,000 Americans die each year from radon induced lung cancer.

As the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers, radon should be tested for, and mitigated if needed, in order to prevent exposure. Unfortunately, not many people know that radon exists or that it is a serious environmental health concern.

Anyone with lungs can get lung cancer.

What is the lung cancer stigma? It is the generalization and assumption that someone who is diagnosed with lung cancer must have smoked or done something to have caused their diagnosis. The reality is that anyone with lungs can develop lung cancer, not just those who smoke. In fact, there are many different causes, radon being the second cause overall and the number one cause among non-smokers.

Erasing the lung cancer stigma will take greater awareness and education. The Better Health and Well-Being category made the most sense for our project as our goal is to raise awareness and, ultimately, reduce the number of radon-induced lung cancer incidents and deaths starting here in Kentucky and beyond.

Radon is a critical environmental health risk that demands continued recognition and improved understanding to protect people everywhere from exposure. With our film contribution, we want to educate the public and encourage action against radon gas in the places we live, work, and learn.

We worked with Lindi Campbell, Leah Phillips, and Chasity Harney of Breath of Hope Kentucky, who shared their stories in this project. All three women are lung cancer survivors and believe that radon exposure was the likely cause of their diagnoses. These women lived a healthy lifestyle, never smoked, and certainly never thought they would be diagnosed with this life-threatening disease. 

Take Action

Our message is simple. Anyone with lungs can get lung cancer and radon could be the cause. Unfortunately, lung cancer has been defined as a smoker’s disease. Consequently, this stigma perpetuates a lack of awareness and often prevents early detection among non-smokers. 

Naturally occurring radon gas can be found anywhere around the world. It is a worldwide environmental hazard that causes over 21,000 deaths here in the U.S. alone. Exposure to radon is preventable. Testing is the only way to know if elevated levels of radon are in the places you live, work, or learn. 

Take action against radon! Test your home.