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By Meagan Nichols, originally published in Memphis Business Journal on February 11, 2016

JohnLukeHall

Memphis Business Journal talked with John Luke Hall, a geologist with Tioga Environmental Consultants, about site contamination and what property owners and developers need to know.

A quick drive around Memphis and one thing is evident – construction.

The Mid-South is undergoing what appears to be a development boom. To help get a better appreciation for the importance of environmental compliance in the building process, the Memphis Business Journal turned to John Luke Hall, a geologist with Tioga Environmental Consultants, to discuss the impact remediation can have on a project.

MBJ: How are remediation services beneficial to people in the construction industry?

John Luke Hall: If contamination is identified on a property and you choose not to remediate, a deed restriction can be placed on the property to prohibit rezoning. Also, the property owner is liable for any adverse effects caused by contamination on a property.

An interesting problem with construction is the discovery of unregistered underground storage tanks. Almost every intersection in a metropolitan area has probably had a gas station at one point or another. If you run across one of these and do not close it properly, the state environmental agency can seriously ruin your day. They can require full environmental assessments, which can be very expensive, and even take you to court. It isn’t a calamity if you run across this, but it must be removed properly by a licensed geologist or engineer, or you can get in serious trouble.

How can damage be reversed?

This depends on the damage. With most light non-aqueous phase liquids, such as gasoline or waste oil, a “pump-and-treat” method is very effective.

The first task is to remove the source. In the case of liquid-free product, the source is the product itself. After the product is pumped out of the ground, the groundwater itself can be treated.

There are multiple options for remediation, ranging from very cheap to outrageously expensive. The tried-and-true method for most soil contamination is excavation: Dig it up. Sometimes this is impractical and, in reality, you are only moving the contamination from one place to another — hopefully to a land fill. But, if you need to get rid of contamination quickly and thoroughly, excavation is the way to go.

If environmental damage is not reversed, what will the long-term effects be?

This depends on the contamination. From a property perspective, it could be as simple as a deed restriction on the property. From a human health perspective, it could be anything from acute toxicity exposure to long-term consequences like cancer and birth deformities. The most likely consequence is a large, expensive and messy lawsuit.

With the recent increase in construction, what are the most important things developers need to be aware of from an environmental perspective when approaching a project, whether it be a renovation or new build?

Past use of the property and the properties around it is the number-one concern. Depending on what kind of activities have been performed on the property in the past, the possibility of the site being contaminated goes up dramatically.

Is there anything else developers or owners should know?

If you are a person who is buying or selling commercial or industrial property, do your due diligence and hire an experienced environmental consulting firm. You need to do your due diligence and research the property, it will save you money in the long run. If you find yourself in the position where you are the owner of a contaminated property, keep in mind that remediation is considerably cheaper than a class action lawsuit.