Vapor intrusion involves the movement of volatile chemicals that make their way from the Earth’s subsurface and into buildings through contaminated groundwater and contaminated soil. Chemicals may include volatile organic compounds; select semi-volatile organic compounds; and inorganic analytes, that may include elemental mercury and hydrogen sulfide. VOCs also include trichloroethylene (TCE) and tetrachloroethylene (PCE).
These chemicals may lead to physical adverse reactions and negative reactions to the environment, including to the groundwater, soil, and personal property due to contamination with volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The health effects of VOCs may occur by way of vapor intrusion, which may lead to vapor inhalation.
Thousands of properties nationwide contain residual VOC contamination in area groundwater and in soils, according to Law360 estimates. Many of these now-contaminated properties were sold for re-development as far back as decades ago. Also, VOC-contaminated groundwater may have migrated to other properties.
In the past, when remedies were developed for those sites that were VOC-contaminated, those remedies and an understanding of various exposure remedies never considered the potential for vapor intrusion into buildings. While the potential for vapor exposure through showering and drinking VOC-contaminated groundwater was addressed, VOC soil contamination only considered shallow soils and direct contact. In areas in which there was the potential for deeper soil contamination, the potential for the VOCs to reach groundwater and lead to water supply contamination was considered, noted Law360.
Meanwhile, in locations in which public water was secured and shallow soil did not contain VOCs, development was permitted, including in residential areas.
Exposure to VOC vapors, and the potential future exposure to these vapors from underlying contaminated groundwater and/or soils may lead to:
- Migration of these vapors into homes, workplace buildings, other buildings
- An array of adverse health effects, depending on the VOCs involved
- Environmental damage
- A reduction of property values
States Beginning to Review Vapor Intrusion Issues
Vapor intrusion occurs as a result of VOC compounds volatilizing and migrating up toward the ground’s surface. This happens in places where buildings, including residences, have been constructed over contaminated areas. The vapors collect under the slabs of buildings and enter cracks in the foundations or in holes in the foundations that may have been intentionally created for utilities, such as electricity, sewer, and water. In some situations, this type of migration may also occur over long distances because VOCs may move along so-called “preferential” pathways through underground pipes, according to Law360.
Most states have started to address vapor intrusion and about 46 states have addressed the matter in guidance documents, or in vapor intrusion requirements in remediation programs. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has also started to address vapor intrusion issues as these issues involve determining remedial action at Superfund sites.
ASTM International (formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials) published standards that incorporate vapor intrusion studies into due diligence. ASTM plans on publishing additional standards that discuss vapor intrusion issues at so-called “brownfields” sites. According to the EPA, brownfields sites refer to real property and the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of this property, which may contain, or which may potentially contain, a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.
Current vapor intrusion activities are expected to look at the remediation of sites that are VOC-contaminated in groundwater and soil, but are not expected to review thousands of sites nationwide in which remedies were completed, but where VOC contamination continues, according to Law360.
Contact Us for Legal Help Regarding Vapor Intrusion, VOCs
If you, or someone you know, resides, works, or has purchased property on which vapor intrusion has occurred, or may occur; has been harmed by adverse physical reactions due to vapor intrusion; or whose property has been minimized do to the presence of contamination in the ground water or soil due that has led to vapor intrusion, you may have valuable legal rights. Our firm is able to answer any questions you may have. For a free, no obligation, case evaluation. Please complete our online form on the right, or call us at 1-800-968-7529 (1-800-YOURLAWYER).