The Environmental Professional and The Environmentalist   Leave a comment

I’ve mentioned before that environmentalists are notorious for having a really high bar, and not being satisfied because there’s always more you can do. I admit to having some of that in me. I’ll call that my spiritual environmentalist, who yearns for pristine landscapes, unique hand-crafted surroundings at home, and no worries about toxics or exposures. Then there’s my pragmatic environmentalist, who is aware of things like financial limitations, physical limitations, risk continuums, and the fact that the vast majority of Americans just want cheap goods. Usually those two sides to my environmentalism coexist peacefully with my job; actually they usually get along quite nicely. Doing environmental investigation and remediation work means that I can clean up contaminated soil and water, which really excites the spiritual environmentalist in me. The pragmatic environmentalist is the dominant side interacting with my work personality because environmental investigations are all about detection limits, regulatory limits, feasibility studies, and human health risk assessments.

Environmental work is also all about closing sites. And that, my friends, is where I’m finding my two environmentalist personalities at odds with each other. This week the regulator concurred with our recommendation to close one of my sites. It’s exciting for me professionally but there’s that piece of me that is saddened at the prospect of leaving soil saturated with heavy oil in the ground. It’s not contaminating groundwater, there’s no human health risk from vapors, and any attempt at remediation would really hurt the overlying business financially. I want pristine, but it’s not going to happen now. In a hundred years or so the oil will be biodegraded, and that just has to be good enough. Another of my sites is currently in limbo waiting for a new low threat closure guidance in the hopes of qualifying. It’s the same situation, but with groundwater contamination and no drinking water wells in the vicinity. There’s no unacceptable human health risk, and with the insurance money drying up continued remediation is difficult. Pragmatically, closure is appropriate. Spiritually, though, it disturbs me. Good thing the pragmatic side wins out.

Posted September 10, 2011 by mayakey in environment, musings

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