Across the region, redevelopment of former factories has opened increasing opportunities for those who monitor and assess the environmental risks that can result.
When old buildings are razed to make way for new ones or when industrial sites that once served as factories become high-rise luxury apartments or office buildings, the chemicals once produced at the plant often have trace elements that linger in the ground.
Contamination issues arise as these chemicals become vapors that can intrude into the new site, wafting from the soil or adjacent groundwater areas. Depending on the levels of contaminants, the situation requires immediate removal of the vapors.
Vapor intrusion occurs when organic compounds in groundwater move off-site or on-site. When those compounds vaporize and travel upward into a building, that’s when contamination can be detected.
In the Greater Lehigh Valley, the pervasive increase in redeveloping vacant tracts of former industrial sites in suburban areas and the rapid rise of urban infill projects have led to a greater need for monitoring the indoor air quality of these new structures.
It’s created a type of niche market for engineering firms with the expertise to fill this growing need.
“I would say it is increasing, especially with the development that’s occurring in Berks and Lehigh counties,” said Joseph Jacobsen, president of Intex Environmental Group Inc. of Pipersville. “I think you are seeing more of it because of development.”
For Intex, vapor intrusion testing has become such a big market that the firm developed a separate webpage for the topic.
Vapor intrusion did not become an element directly regulated by Pennsylvania until 2004, according to Brian Loughnane, director of geosciences for Synergy Environmental Inc. of Royersford, a firm with office locations in Reading, Bethlehem and Cherry Hill, N.J.
That year, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection added a vapor intrusion element to the Act 2 Land Recycling and Environmental Remediation Standards Act, which the state adopted in 1995, Loughnane said.