Environmental Audits, Assessments And Investigations
By: Nina V. Novak, P. Biol, P.Eng.
3.1 ACTIVITIES INVOLVED IN ENVIRONMENTAL AUDITS, ASSESSMENTS AND INVESTIGATIONS
3.1.1 The Environmental Audit
An environmental audit is usually considered the first step of a phased approach to site environmental assessments. It is a non-intrusive (no sampling) assessment of a property, establishing a basis for cost-effective assessments and investigations at a later time.
As specified in the CSA "Guidelines for Environmental Auditing: Statement of Principles and General Practices" (CSA Z751-94), an environmental audit is:
Audit criteria, which establish the standard to which a site is evaluated, usually consist of applicable laws and regulations, and industry or corporate standards, policies, plans, practices or procedures established to protect the environment and ensure effective management of environmental risk.
Numerous other definitions of environmental auditing exist, but their essence is the same: focusing on the determination of compliance with applicable legal, industry or corporate criteria and standards.
Common benefits of various environmental auditing programs are:
Additional benefits from undertaking environmental audits usually include improved overall environmental awareness, proactive environmental risk management, improved communication between management and operating facilities, and progression toward the development of an effective environmental management system. Another important benefit from a well-planned environmental audit program is that it is a critical aspect of exercising due diligence, a form of legal defence for environmental infractions.
The essential components of an environmental audit are:
Establishing the appropriate corrective actions in response to the audit findings is then the responsibility of the client, possibly leading to the need for further environmental assessments or investigations.
Generally, environmental auditing programs initially implement the reactive approach of avoiding problems by undertaking audits that focus on regulatory compliance. As a corporate environmental management program matures, this focus shifts through a diagnostic phase to ultimately a proactive management phase aimed at improved organizational learning and corporate efficiency.
It is important to realize that undertaking an environmental audit does not act as a substitute for the compliance activities mandated by the legislation or standards in place. The audit is merely the tool used to measure corporate performance in meeting prescribed environmental standards.
3.1.2 The Environmental Site Assessment
In a situation where the state of site contamination must be determined, a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment is required to provide preliminary identification of actual and potential site contamination. An Environmental Site Assessment has been defined by CSA (CSA Z768-94, Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (ESA)) as:
Unlike an Environmental Audit, the focus of the Environmental Site Assessment is to identify environmental risks and liabilities. Some of the more common applications of a Phase I Environmental Assessment are presented below:
The general components of a Phase I ESA are essentially the same as those presented previously for a Phase I Environmental Audit, except that the applicable standard would be CSA Z768-94 - Phase I Environmental Site Assessments. The focus of the ESA is also different, being to identify any areas of the property that may present an environmental liability. Therefore, a historical component to all information reviews is essential in assisting with the identification of past practices that are no longer undertaken, and that may not have been remediated to current standards. Familiarity with the biophysical characteristics of the site (e.g. soils, groundwater, surface water, topography, vegetation and wildlife) is also necessary to estimate contaminant migration possibilities and assist in identifying potential receptors of the contaminants. Adjacent land uses, both present and historical, should also be reviewed to determine whether there is the possibility of contaminant migration to the property from off-site locations.
3.1.3 Environmental Site Investigations
As a component of the phased approach to overall site assessment and contaminated site remediation, the Phase I Environmental Site Assessment is the initial stage determining the necessity and direction of following stages. The subsequent investigations and activities can be summarized in the stages identified below:
The critical difference between the Phase I ESA and the Phase II investigations is the use of quantitative sampling and analytical techniques in Phase II. Phase II field sampling and analysis programs must be developed on a site-specific basis, using information obtained from the Phase I ESA and other sources, e.g. underground utility locations.
The sampling and analysis program may contain any of the following:
Following the identification of contaminant types and locations in Phase II Environmental Site Investigations, a subsequent field sampling and analysis program is usually necessary to delineate thoroughly the areas of contamination that exceed regulatory limits. Owing to the large number of samples and analyses required, appropriately selected, inexpensive "indicator" parameters may facilitate this component of site characterization, combined with selective detailed analyses.
Once the contaminated areas requiring remediation have been delineated, a Phase III remedial investigation is usually implemented. Remedial investigations are performed to develop appropriate reclamation protocols for areas having unacceptable levels of contamination. This involves minimal field work, focusing on theoretical science and engineering considerations of the applicability of various reclamation methods to the site and the contaminant(s). Other considerations involve impacts of the reclamation activities, contaminant residues or byproducts; adjacent landowner concerns; residue waste handling and disposal; occupational health and safety; space availability; extent of contaminant reduction necessary for compliance; and time limitations for the remediation. After the remedial method is chosen, additional components of the remedial investigation may include treatability studies (bench and pilot scale); detailed design; preparation and tendering of contract documents; regulatory permitting; and public consultation. The actual implementation of the reclamation program is sometimes referred to as the last phase, Phase IV, of site assessment and reclamation. A general requirement after the reclamation activities are completed is to monitor the site to ensure that remedial activities were effective.
3.1.4 Need for Undertaking Environmental Audits or Site Assessments
Environmental liabilities are becoming more expensive as new environmental legislation and guidelines are being implemented. Businesses, whether they are the property owners, prospective purchasers, lending institutions or insurance companies, are in a situation where they must make themselves aware of site environmental concerns and take appropriate remedial actions if they are to exercise the level of care necessary to show due diligence. A few of the major motivating factors initiating environmental audits or assessments are listed below:
One or a combination of all the above factors invariably initiates most environmental audits and assessments.
3.2 STANDARDS AND SKILLS
All current standards for environmental audits or assessments are voluntary, since none of the requirements for qualifications or activities is legislated through statutes or regulations. However, numerous industry organizations have generated or are generating guidelines for undertaking environmental audits or assessments. Some of these organizations are listed below:
3.2.2 Standard Applicability
At present, the only enforceable standards or criteria are those identified through federal, provincial, or local legislation. Phase I Environmental Audits are intended to provide a routine check to ensure that facility activities are in compliance with these standards or criteria. As previously mentioned, however, many environmental infractions are legally considered "strict and several" forms of liability, for which the defence is to prove "due diligence". As such, any individual in a position to control an activity resulting in pollution of the environment must show that all "reasonable care" under the circumstances was taken to prevent the infraction from occurring. Considering this, the established voluntary standards would assist the courts to determine whether all "reasonable care" was undertaken. The voluntary standards are distributed by many organizations as indications of their expectations, and therefore assist in establishing the "industry standard" on which "reasonable care" is assessed. It is in this manner that the voluntary standards become enforceable.
3.2.3 Practitioners Qualifications
The recommended requirements for an environmental audit (CSA Z751-94) include independence and objectivity about the property, professional competence and due care. Environmental auditors usually have quite different educational backgrounds. Nonetheless, an auditor should have adequate proficiency, knowledge and experience in the following areas:
The qualifications of Phase I Environmental Assessors are similar to those of Phase I Environmental Auditors. It is also recommended by CSA Z768-94 that assessors have knowledge in the following technical areas:
In addition, it is useful for the auditor to have an appreciation of the interactions of biophysical factors with contaminants, so that contaminant dispersion potential can be estimated.
Individuals undertaking remedial investigations must have a highly technical background in areas such as engineering, geology/hydrogeology, chemistry, biology or soil science. This must be combined with knowledge of available reclamation technologies, their applications and limitations, process design concepts, feasibility assessments, risk management, occupational health and safety, and project design and management.
All the above requirements must be combined with a solid basis of experience with related projects. Some clients also require errors and omissions insurance coverage for consultants undertaking environmental audits, assessments or investigations.
3.2.4 Certification of Practitioners
As a result of the lack of enforceable environmental audit and assessment standards, combined with the vast number and diverse background of individuals providing these services, the question of certification arises. Clients need some guidance as to the credibility of the practitioners offering these services. Currently, the majority of client security comes from hiring individuals possessing professional status, since these individuals are ethically bound to undertake only those activities for which they are qualified. This is usually augmented by requiring contractors to have adequate errors and omissions insurance coverage. Based on their education background and professional status, it is common to have professional engineers performing Phase I environmental audits and assessments.
A number of agencies either have or are considering certification of environmental professionals. A brief list of some of the industry agencies providing either registration or certification is presented below:
Educational requirements can vary from none to B.Sc. or M.Sc. degrees. Experience levels range from none to in excess of 15 years (with a technical degree). Testing, from oral exams to 3-hour written exams, may be required. Practice standards have not been developed by many of these groups, while codes of ethics exist with most of them. The right to the title (by copyright) is available with approximately half the groups, but a government approved right to practice exists only with the California EPA and the Nevada Bureau of Chemical Hazards Management.
The extent of protection provided to clients is questionable, however, when the limitation of rights to practice is not enforceable and no disciplinary opportunities exist within the groups providing the certification.
National certification is being promoted as necessary for business to identify competent practitioners and to improve the level of practice. The need for a national infrastructure to comply with ISO 14000 standards on environmental auditing and assessments is also presented as a basis for a national certification program. Considering that there are currently many professionals - engineers, geologists, lawyers and accountants - working in these areas and controlled by a licensure regime, a critical consideration must be to determine the actual need for certification. The possibility also exists for a conflict between the certification activities and the regulation of certain professions. The certification standards may not provide any additional guarantee of qualified individuals and may only serve to confuse or mislead the clients.