Reflecting on the Past Decade of the Massachusetts Environmental Industry
As 2019 comes to close, we at Cooperstown Environmental LLC find ourselves reflecting on advances in the Massachusetts environmental industry over the past decade. We wanted to share a few of the major areas of progress with our clients and colleagues. A big thank you to everyone who has contributed to the growth of this industry and to making Massachusetts a cleaner and safer place!
Since you are probably all too sick of the end-of-the-decade “Top 10” lists we created a Pick Six of highlights:
In December 2010 the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) published the Vapor Intrusion Guidance – Interim Draft, the first comprehensive vapor intrusion guidance document in the state and one of the first in the country. Since the initial draft guidance MassDEP has released several additional versions, the most recent being the October 2016 Vapor Intrusion Guidance: Site Assessment, Migration and Closure (Policy #WSC-16-435).
In 2010 the industry was just starting to think about the possibility of exposure to contaminants into our living and working spaces via vapor migration. At the close of 2019 we have established scientific methods to assess and quantify this risk and have developed reliable engineering controls to mitigate exposure in existing buildings and prevent exposure in newly constructed buildings.
The newest guidance documents and associated changes to the Massachusetts Contingency Plan (MCP) have allowed for the achievement of a Permanent Solution at contaminated sites with passive or active exposure pathway mitigation systems, provided these sites meet certain criteria to ensure that public health and welfare are sufficiently protected. Thus, allowing properties that previously would have been stuck in regulatory limbo, to achieve a Permanent Solution and protect public health and welfare.
Brownfields Tax Credits
Massachusetts created the Brownfields Tax Credit program in 1998 to encourage economic redevelopment and promote the remediation of contaminated property by allowing eligible persons to recover up to half the money spent to cleanup a contaminated site. Based on the state’s most recently publicized numbers, over 200-million dollars in tax credits were awarded between 2011 and 2017. These credits have helped promote the cleanup of hundreds of contaminated properties over the past decade. The Department of Revenue is expected to release proposed updates to the program in early 2020, bringing the program into a new decade; stay tuned to learn what these changes will entail.
At the beginning of the decade, “similar soils,” soil with low levels of contamination below concentrations that qualified the material as a remediation waste, was typically sent to landfills because there was no clear guidance on how to handle this soil. This practice has increased the cost of site cleanup and consumed the limited space available for the management of more heavily impacted soil.
MassDEP made great strides in addressing this problem through the release of two new policies, the Similar Soils Provision Guidance (Policy WSC#-13-500) and Interim Policy on the Re-Use of Soil for Large Reclamation Projects (Policy # COMM-15-01). These documents clarified when soils could be moved without MassDEP approval, how to determine appropriate receiving locations for such soils and established a framework that allowed MassDEP to issue site-specific approvals to accept large volumes of soil. The site-specific approvals were in the form of Administrative Consent Orders (ACOs) and allowed sand pits, gravel pits and quarries to accept soil in a manner that would pose no significant risk of harm to health, safety, public welfare or the environment and would not create new releases or threats of releases of oil or hazardous materials.
The enactment of these policies provided more appropriate homes for soil with low concentrations of contamination while also filling in pits and quarries that posed a safety issue in several Massachusetts communities. As of October 2018, MassDEP has issued ten ACOs for a total of over 13 million cubic yards of soil!
A decade ago, most people in the environmental industry would have looked at you quizzically if you uttered the word PFAS. Now Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) are the central feature of most environmental cleanup seminars. PFAS have been utilized in the United States since the 1940s in a wide variety of products including stain and water-repellent fabrics, nonstick products (e.g., Teflon), polishes, waxes, paints, cleaning products, food packaging, and fire-fighting foams. Only recently, however, have we discovered the potential danger that they pose.
Some PFAS are very resistant to breakdown, migrate easily, and bioaccumulate the food chain, making remediation of these compounds particularly difficult. Additionally, toxicological data suggests that these products can be harmful at extremely low levels in drinking water with parts per trillion levels being suspected of causing adverse health in humans and animals. Laboratory studies indicate that sufficient exposure to PFAS compounds, may result in increased cholesterol levels, low birth weight, effects on the immune systems, cancer, and thyroid hormone disruption.
Assessment and remediation of PFAS has become more prevalent over the past years. We are closing out the decade with a December 27, 2019 release of the newly established MCP standards for PFAS that will provide clear direction on how to deal with these compounds.
MassDEP has been busy over the past decade keeping the MCP relevant and scientifically current with revisions in June 2009 and June 2014, and PFAs updates in December 2019. We anticipate another full update in the first half of 2020. Many of the recent changes have attempted to simplify and streamline the MCP process. Other changes, such as allowing for some Permanent Solutions with Conditions that do not require a deed restriction and allowing for a Permanent Solution at disposal sites with an ongoing exposure pathway mitigation system, have broadened the number of sites that could obtain a Permanent Solution while assuring that future uses of the site remain protective of human health.
Changes involving promulgated standards have ensured that the MCP is current with the latest toxicology data and practices and has incorporated recent developments in the realm of light nonaqueous phase liquid. These are just a few of the long list of recent MCP updates that have contributed to the ongoing evolution of the cleanup of disposal sites in Massachusetts.
Throughout the many innovations and advances discussed above, MassDEP and the environmental consulting community have worked together to push the industry forward. MassDEP has encouraged and listened to input from the consultants and incorporated many of these suggestions into the regulations and guidance documents developed over the past decade. MassDEP has relied upon the knowledge and expertise of Licensed Site Professionals (LSPs) and other environmental professionals to help improve the program and address complicated problems when they arise. This collaboration has resulted in a more flexible, innovative, and cost-effective regulatory program in Massachusetts that remains protective of public health, safety, and the environment.