Vapor intrusion refers to the migration of volatile chemicals from the subsurface (soil and groundwater) into residential, commercial, or industrial buildings. Specifically, volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) in soil or ground water can vaporize. These vapors migrate through the subsurface, finding their way into buildings, thereby impacting indoor air quality. Moreover, when vapors intersect a preferential pathway (such as coarse fill surrounding an underground utility), they can move at a higher velocity.
Depending upon the species of VOC and its concentration, inhalation can be harmful, especially over long periods of time. Therefore, regulators are mindful of potential indoor human exposure to VOCs. VOCs include chlorinated solvents (e.g., degreasers and dry-cleaning chemicals), other solvents, and petroleum products (e.g., gasoline, fuel oil, and kerosene).
What must I do if I am a responsible party?
Depending upon what chemicals are impacting your subsurface environment and their concentration, you may have an affirmative responsibility to contact neighbors who lie within a prescribed distance from the border of your property. Accordingly, you may then have to take air samples at their homes or businesses. Sampling could require the acquisition of both sub-slab vapor samples and vapor samples within the structures.
You must always determine if your neighbors are impacted because of the very real potential for litigation. If neighbors are impacted, it is advisable to contact an environmental attorney because affected partis will likely contact their own attorney seeking redress.
Innocent Party Issues
What should I do if I am a homeowner who believes that I have an indoor air quality issue that is not my doing?
If you suspect that your indoor air quality is compromised, call your local health officer and/or fire department for guidance. If they believe that your home is impacted, they have a series of options at their disposal to evaluate the source and advocate for you. Generally speaking, it is often better if your health officer calls the NJDEP on your behalf. If an indoor air quality investigation is warranted on your property, to the extent possible, you will want to have the responsible parties pay for this service because it can be costly. The price to collect and analyze indoor air samples (depending upon a few variables) can run from $1,000 (and up) per sampling round.
What should I do if am a commercial entity who believes that I may have an indoor air quality issue that is not my doing?
If you are a commercial business/land owner and have no knowledge of any chemical issues on your property that would cause such a problem, you should call your local health officer and/or fire department and follow the advice provided above. If you are a commercial tenant you should call your landlord, who should in turn take immediate and appropriate action.
However, if you are a commercial business/land owner who believes that your indoor air quality is compromised and you know of an environmental issue impacting the soil or groundwater on your property, then you should speak with an environmental consultant. You may need to take immediate and proactive steps to ensure the health and safety of your staff. In addition, you will need to perform additional sampling and testing to determine if it is necessary to notify your neighbors. You must establish that you followed a clear and immediate sequence of steps following identification of the problem that were administratively correct and appropriate relative to protecting human health and the environment.
The NJDEP has written extensive and complicated guidance documents that govern how to conduct a vapor intrusion assessment. ESA has performed numerous vapor intrusion investigations and can respond quickly in an emergency situation. These investigations involve the collection of sub-slab soil gas samples, as well as indoor air samples in stainless steel canisters or passive monitors with analysis conducted by a certified laboratory. If remediation is necessary, ESA will have a licensed engineer design a system to render your premises free from harmful vapors. Some VOCs are more dangerous than others, so please take the intrusion of VOCs seriously. Contact ESA for a free consultation and evaluation of your vapor intrusion situation.