Environmental remediation – the process of removing pollution or contaminants from water and soil in order to both restore the environment and ultimately protect human health – continues to be a necessary piece of the puzzle when it comes to purchasing and redeveloping commercial, industrial and residential sites across the Garden State.
According to Bhuvnesh J. Parekh, associate principal of GZA, a consulting firm practicing geotechnical, environmental, water, ecology and construction management, environmental remediation removes contaminants from the built environment, soil, groundwater, sediment and/or surface water. He notes that this environmental process often begins during the due diligence phase of a property transaction.
“If GZA identifies the potential for contamination during that phase, an environmental site assessment is conducted and will include a sampling of the soil or groundwater as well as a chemical analysis,” he explains. “If contamination is confirmed, we develop a remedial solution to clean it up. We will consider myriad objectives, including our client’s budget and intended use of the site, the contaminants involved, site conditions, other technical issues and the regulatory requirements.”
Parekh explains that environmental remediation projects are classified as in-situ (those that happen within the ground) or ex-situ (those that require the contaminant to be removed, treated, encapsulated, transported and deposited off-site). There are a wide array of environmental remediation technologies and methods for treating contaminated areas, and the approach will always depend on the type and extent of the pollution as well as the unique characteristics of the site itself. When it comes to tackling soil contamination, for example, he notes that soil vapor extraction, solidification and stabilization – as well as soil excavation and off-site disposal – are still the most common treatment technologies used in New Jersey. Groundwater contamination in the state often requires the use of in-situ treatment technologies like chemical oxidation and bioremediation.
Doug Neumann, director of environmental services for land-use consulting firm Dresdner Robin, agrees that remediation strategies are always going to differ from project to project because there are so many factors to be evaluated, from the specific types of contaminants to how New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection rules and guidance may apply to an individual site. However, when it comes to residential projects in particular, Neumann notes the remediation schedule is always paramount.
“Remediation usually requires excavation and off-site disposal of the most heavily contaminated soils … another common option is injecting a compound into the ground to enhance natural degradation. The benefit is that it’s usually cost effective when compared to excavation,” he explains. “However, that approach can generally occur over a period of a few years, so in real estate-driven projects where timing is everything, most clients aren’t even going to consider that approach.”
Currently, Dresdner Robin is involved in a large mixed-use development project, The Cove in downtown Jersey City, where the firm is addressing issues related to soil groundwater sediment, rehabilitation of wetlands and a variety of infrastructure improvements. Neumann notes that the finished project will include residential, office, hotel and life science uses like laboratory and research facilities. The $10 million project’s first phase was completed in 2022. It is now in the final stages of design and permitting for the next phase of remediation.
The Licensed Site Remediation Professionals Association (LSRPA) was established to provide information, education and technical resources to LSRPs, other professionals involved in environmental remediation in New Jersey as well as students pursuing an education in a discipline related to the field.
“Our original goal was to help decrease the backlog and reduce the threat of the state’s contaminated sites; they needed to get cycled through the system and cleaned up,” says LSRPA President William P. Call. There were approximately 20,000 remediation cases in 2010, and now that number is down to around 14,000. “The proof is in the pudding. We’ve been pretty successful at turning unproductive sites into productive use sites,” he says.
According to Call, one common remediation site category in New Jersey is historic fill. Typically found within urban areas, historic fill sites often represent hundreds of years of contamination. “You might have an industrial property – like a bank in Newark – that happens to be situated on what was once an old gas station,” he says. “On these types of sites, dirt has been moved around, there may have been fires or buildings knocked down, there have been spills by machinery and tanks … so there are all these layers of slightly- to moderately-contaminated dirt,” he explains. “That’s why the job of an LSRP is so critical; there’s a lot of historical research that has to occur before we ever take that first sample.”
Fortunately, technological advancements also continue to improve environmental remediation processes and capabilities. “There are exciting innovations in remedial delivery technologies including permeable reactive barriers (PRBs), electrokinetic (EK) technology, biologically-enhanced degradation, solubilizing agents, micro-bubbles and nanobubbles,” Parekh says.
However, technology is still catching up when it comes to being able to address the issue of PFAS, often referred to as “forever chemicals.” These chemicals resist oil, grease, water and heat, and certain PFAS, such as PFOA and PFOS, will not actually break down; instead, they build up in living things and can adversely impact both human health and the environment over time. These chemicals are found in air, water, soil and even fish across the country, and studies have shown that exposure to some PFAs in the environment can be related to negative health impacts in both humans and animals.
Neumann notes that while these contaminants aren’t anything new, they are now starting to be recognized by the public as a serious issue, and they’re becoming increasingly regulated by the state. “PFAS are everywhere, and they’re going to be our next battle in the environmental universe,” Call asserts.
While all states have adopted policies and are requiring consultants to investigate sites for evidence of PFAS, including New Jersey, there are still numerous challenges to overcome when it comes to actually being able to identify and treat these contaminants.
“In order to investigate something, we have to be able to collect a sample and send it to a lab, but the labs don’t yet have the methodologies in place to analyze and meet the required standards,” Neumann says. “Our job is to follow guidance and implement rules, but when it comes to PFAS, those rules don’t fully exist yet. So, we’re hoping regulators can put out some better guidance so we can tackle this issue for clients moving forward.”
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