Remediation success in an uncertain world
As we expand our understanding of the way emerging contaminants enter, travel and accumulate within the environment, our response to managing them is expanding too.
28 May 2020
Emerging contaminant program management
My team is at the forefront of emerging contaminant program management in Australia and New Zealand, with a particular focus on per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS).
As client-side program managers, we add value by helping clients to navigate the complex legislative, commercial and scientific landscape that is emerging contaminant investigation, management and remediation.
While no two programs are the same, here are the three ‘constants’ – the principles and approaches we apply to add certainty and direction on our clients’ path towards emerging contaminant success: define, plan and manage.
Define your problem with clear objectives
Unlike some of the well-known contaminant classes that have standard investigation, removal and remediation approaches, emerging contaminants are far less straightforward.
Long before any discussion about what to do and who needs to do it, there are several phases of problem identification and success definition that need to be worked through.
Understanding the scale of the problem is vital to deciding how to solve it, and being clear about a client’s motivations and drivers is also key. Some will embrace opportunities to go over and above the current legislative requirements and are happy for their projects to be a testing ground for new technologies and scientific approaches. Others will be focused on achieving compliance as quickly and simply as possible.
As program managers, we align solutions with an evidence-based understanding of the problem faced and the end-state that clients are looking to achieve.
With an end destination that is liable to change (as legislation is updated or new scientific evidence uncovered) walking in a straight line can take you off track quickly. We treat emerging contaminant planning as a cyclical process that’s under constant review.
Executive Advisor - Project Management
Plan on change
A big challenge in the management of contaminants like PFAS is the fact that our scientific understanding of them is constantly evolving. Guideline values for the protection of human and environmental health change as the science develops, and our knowledge of how contaminants move and behave is growing every day.
For most of the clients we work with, their emerging contaminant programs involve many sites and can take years to complete. With an end destination that is liable to change (as legislation is updated or new scientific evidence uncovered) walking in a straight line can take you off track quickly. To avoid problems, we treat emerging contaminant planning as a cyclical process that’s under constant review.
We are constantly looking at the options available to ensure our remediation strategy aligns with the latest science, environmental legislation and safety regulations. We are also reviewing other remediation initiatives to see what they can teach us and cycling back to ensure our Remediation Action Plan still has clients on the right path.
Manage technical as a means, not an end
Another hurdle faced during emerging contaminant remediation initiatives is that existing contamination management technologies/techniques can’t always be applied to emerging contaminants.
As a client, having too many proposed solutions (and no framework to evaluate them effectively) is just as bad as having none. With emerging contaminant investigation and remediation science still in a state of iteration, innovation and flux, it’s important to not lose sight of the end objective.
Each new program offers the opportunity to trial new solutions and add to the scientific body of knowledge about best practice management, but it’s our job to help clients avoid over-engineered solutions and the cost blow-outs that can potentially occur when technical consultants prioritise their solution over the end state objective.
Offering an informed, unbiased assessment of the scientific options available, we align client objectives and interests–legal, financial, commercial and social–with the most appropriate technical response. From there, we connect clients with experienced environmental consultants to achieve their remediation goals cost-effectively.
When it comes to emerging contaminant management responses, there are still many unknowns. By applying the constants above, we can help clients to plot the right course, match strategy with science, and ultimately emerge from the remediation experience successful.