Vapor intrusion investigations (measuring the movement of chemical vapors into buildings from contaminated groundwater/soil) are rarely performed on behalf of an impacted community. These expensive investigations are usually conducted for industrial/commercial clients to comply with regulatory agencies. In the case of the Franklin Indiana, including the impacted community as meaningful partners in the investigation and using a rapid, real-time and continuous monitoring approach helped quickly uncover a decades-long uncontrolled contamination problem that federal regulators had missed.
In May, John Mundell and Shannon Lisa of Mundell & Associates traveled the Twelfth International Conference on Remediation of Chlorinated and Recalcitrant Compounds in Palm Springs, California to present this unique perspective on community-based vapor intrusion investigation which was believed to be cleaned up but continued to threaten human health and the environment.
Community Concerns and a Toxic Mystery
The Franklin site was used for electrical part manufacturing, with chlorinated solvents including trichloroethylene (TCE) handled and disposed at the site from 1961 to 1983. The original cleanup, a groundwater pump-and-treat system installed at the site in 1995, was believed to be controlling contaminant migration and human exposures.
Due to lingering public concerns about childhood cancer cases in the area, Mundell began an independent investigation together with community members and non-profit partners. As part of this investigation, Mundell conducted the first-ever vapor intrusion testing of homes surrounding the site.
Mundell’s work showed that the indoor air quality of nearby homes continued to be at risk nearly 40 years after original investigations at the site began. The 1995 remedy failed to address contamination carried from the site into the residential neighborhood through the city sanitary sewer lines. Until the community-driven investigation by Mundell, no follow-up review of the site’s risk to residents had ever been conducted by the regulatory agencies.
Mundell’s Innovative Environmental Detective Work
John shared with conference attendees how Mundell was able to rapidly investigate the indoor air quality of residences throughout the Franklin community. Typically, community groups do not have access to expensive mobile laboratories to conduct vapor intrusion monitoring. In this unique approach, we set up a temporary mobile laboratory in a locally-rented RV to screen 30 homes for impacts to indoor air and sewer cleanouts.
In 5 of these homes, samples were collected using three different technologies to compare results: 2 traditional methods using randomly timed sampling events and a real-time, continuous approach. Previous studies comparing traditional and real-time, continuous monitoring sampling methods have typically only been performed in single, unoccupied structures; not across multiple, “real” lived-in residences. Our comparison displayed how real-time continuous monitoring technologies help to identify key exposure patterns and can expedite decision-making and response in affected homes where traditional sampling methods can miss or mask an actual vapor intrusion problem, potentially exposing residents to toxins longer.
A Model for At-Risk Communities
Community engagement and rapid mobilization of real-time, continuous data collection is an innovative model that can be applied in at-risk communities around the world who may have unidentified vapor intrusion issues. In particular in the U.S., the scope of sites closed before vapor intrusion was considered or that have used randomly timed sampling events is surprisingly large. As in the case of Franklin, Indiana collaboration with residents, regulators, businesses, and other interested parties is often difficult and requires a people-first problem-solving mentality but can lead to happier, healthier communities.
Abstract: J. Mundell, R. Walker, and S. Lisa. “Re-evaluating Vapor Intrusion “Cold Case” Sites Using Rapid, Community-Wide Indoor Air Screening.”
About the conference: Battelle Twelfth International Conference on Remediation of Chlorinated and Recalcitrant Compounds
Full list of conference presentations: Battelle 2022 Chlorinated Conference Final Program
Franklin, IN vapor intrusion investigation: Mundell summary and media links, EPA updates
What is vapor intrusion: EPA fact sheet