What Is Environmental Risk Assessment?

Despite their best efforts to ensure that their properties are clean and free from environmental impacts, landowners occasionally find (through a Phase II ESA) that their property has some kind of contamination in the soil or groundwater. Their property is no longer compliant with O. Reg. 153 and they have environmental liability that needs to be managed.

[Recommended Reading: How Much Does an Environmental Risk Assessment Cost?]

How can a Risk Assessment reduce your liability and help you bring your site into compliance? 

Risk Assessment is, most simply, the analysis of hazards and the likelihood of them causing issues. An Environmental Risk Assessment is a structured analysis of environmental impacts (like contamination in groundwater or soil) and the probability that these will harm plants, animals, the surrounding environment, or humans.

A Risk Assessment looks at the impacts, hazards, and probabilities on your property to propose site-specific standards that take into account the use of the site, its unique features, and the current allowable guidelines to propose new standards for the site. Regulatory officials (in Ontario, the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks – MECP) review and accept or reject these standards.

How can I conduct an Environmental Risk Assessment?

In Ontario, environmental risk assessments are carried out by a Qualified Person (Qj) who can calculate the probability of harm under certain environmental conditions. This looks at the dosage of a contaminant needed to cause harm and the ways that exposure could happen at the site. For instance, a Risk Assessor could examine levels of lead in the soil, calculate the probable exposure that a construction worker would face if they were working on the site all day, and determine whether this is an acceptable level of risk or if a Risk Management Measure is needed.

What is a Risk Management Measure?

A Risk Management Measure (RMM) protects people using the property from exposure to the contaminant in question. RMMs can take a variety of forms. One common RMM on environmental sites is the use of a barrier to keep the impacted soil contained. This could be an asphalt pad covering contaminated soil and used as a parking lot. Another RMM could be using the first floor of a building for non-residential purposes (commercial/retail or parking instead, perhaps), so residents aren’t exposed to soil impacts.

What is the importance of a Risk Assessment?

RA is a form of remediation and is a piece of the land restoration puzzle. Often, it is financially or logistically difficult to bring sites into compliance with the standard criteria/regulations. RA can be one tool in the QP’s toolbox for bringing value back to these sites.

The RA process is more prescriptive under the new EPA provisions and RSC Regulations (released in 2011). This ensures a more rigorous process and significantly reduces the risk exposure to the property owner.

AEL believes in using RA in conjunction with other approaches. On many sites, this means remediating “hotspots” or areas of high contamination and using risk assessment to adjust the allowable limits for the site. This is useful when there is widespread, low-level contamination. This saves you time and money, preventing unnecessary excavation and disposal fees.

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