June 01, 2017

Vapor Intrusion: When Fear Interferes with Management of a Contaminated Site

Ellen Ivens

How do you get access to a home to sample both beneath the slab and inside the house? What are the challenges? Many homeowners will respond with fear and anger when approached about a vapor intrusion investigation. These are natural responses. You can drink bottled water if your well is contaminated, but you cannot stop breathing the air in your home. Vapor intrusion can trigger fear about the health of a family, safety of the home, and loss of control. Fear and anger interfere with objective decision-making and create barriers to access. A homeowner may deny an access request to conduct vapor intrusion sampling based on lack of information, belief that the risk is overstated, concern about time commitment, concern about the impact on property values and potential stigma, or lack of trust in the responsible party and the responsible party’s consultant conducting the investigation. These are all valid concerns, but how does a consultant or attorney help a homeowner overcome them? The response requires coordination with regulatory project managers, early and frequent outreach to the community, and accessible access-request letters and access agreements. Such an effort requires time and money upfront, but the resources will be well spent if they prevent lost time and project delay in the case of an incomplete investigation.

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