BLOG – Mitch exchanges knowledge with European colleagues

16 March 2018

Quest is an international transfer program connecting Arcadians from all over the world. The program is sponsored by the Lovinklaan Foundation. Every week we are highlighting one of the stories of our employees who went on an exchange. In this blog post, we cover the Quest story of Mitch Wacksman who traveled from Portland, U.S. to Brussels in Belgium to map out the different strategies and methods used in investigating Vapor Intrusion (VI) during construction work. His ‘diary’ gives you an insight of what to expect from a Quest exchange and illustrates differences between offices. 

An Introduction to Vapor Intrusion

Mitch Wacksman used his Quest mission to investigate the differences in Vapor Intrusion research between the US and European offices. But before going into the details of the procedures, we first need to answer one fundamental question for those who are not familiar with the topic: what exactly is Vapor Intrusion?

Vapor Intrusion is the natural occurrence of vapor from groundwater traveling up through soil, floor and wall cracks into a construction. As a result, the vapor can damage the construction its structure.  What makes the process even more problematic is the fact that most of the groundwater on construction sites are contaminated by pollution, making the vapor also toxic. Investigative research on Vapor Intrusion is crucial for the risk assessment of a construction project. Mitch experienced the differences of the application of Vapor Intrusion research during his Quest exchange.

Day 0 Wednesday 10/4 – The beginning: From Portland to London

“My journey started with an uneventful flight.  I had finally arrived in London and had woken up to the smell of croissants.  I spend my afternoon sightseeing, enjoying the National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey, among other things. In the evening, I had dinner with Matt Bean, Anthony Craig, and Andy Sweetman; colleagues I’ve worked with on due diligence projects in the past and who I had met up with again in London. We went to the Eagle, an original Gastropub in London, were I ordered a skate wing, a delicious type of fish you don’t often see on menus. We enjoyed our food, drinks and had good conversations about our team, due diligence services and common clients.”

Day 1 Thursday 10/5 – Cambridge, UK: Exchanging ideas.

“Thursday morning was my official first day of my Quest experience, I caught an early train to Cambridge to meet with Katy Baker and her team. The approximately 1-hour train ride took me through the beautiful English countryside. I even saw a rainbow en route. I subsequently met with Katy for the day and we exchanged ideas regarding Vapor Intrusion (VI) investigation. VI is investigated to show where soil and water remediation is needed.
We came to identify an interesting difference between Europe and the US in how sites are dealt with: in the US regulators are very conservative, often looking for preemptive mitigation even with minimal or no risk of exposure to current occupants of the buildings; whereas in the UK, modeling is often used to show no potential for impacts and the investigation stops. Modeling was widely used in the US until about 3 years ago when the USEPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency) stopped accepting it due to inherent uncertainty and “black box” feel. With the loss of the ability to model in most states in the US, the regulated community is asked to “prove a negative” via sampling multiple media from multiple time frames. Later that afternoon, I gave a webinar to approximately ten UK colleagues. We had a good discussion on the differences in VI investigation techniques and discussed passive sampling techniques and their applications.”

Day 2 Friday 10/6 – London Headquarters: Exchanging idea

“All in all, it proved to be a very insightful day!”

“My second day in London was all about exchanging ideas. I had a good conversation with Andy Sweetman, who does a great deal of due diligence work. Andy shared some templates and ideas for delivering due diligence reports faster and more efficiently which could increase our margin while enabling better quality. One challenge with this approach in the US is ensuring compliance in reporting according to the standards of the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). We also discussed the need for automated data collection and reporting.
I subsequently spoke with Matt Bean about a common client and we shared ideas on how to deliver better quality reports. Lastly, I shared the tools I developed in the past with another colleague, to be used for one of the European clients. After work I went for a long run into the tourist areas of London, passed River Thames and the Queen’s walk and through the SoHo district. All in all, it proved to be a very insightful day. I definitely plan to work with the templated materials shared by Andy and see if they will fit for our multinational clients.”

Day 3 and 4 Saturday 10/7- Sunday 10/8 – From London to Brussels via Bruges.

“The next morning I caught the early train to Bruges and spend a couple of days as tourist. I enjoyed the ancient city immensely. I walked to the top of the Belfry (366 steps) situated in the middle of the main square. I also ate plenty of chocolate and tried some of the typical Belgian drinks before heading to Brussels the next morning. Upon arrival in Brussels, I saw a few touristic sites including the UN headquarters and meeting spaces. Later on, I met colleague Wouter Gevaerts for a drink and dinner in Brussels. We had an excellent conversation during dinner about the implications of client liabilities in different parts of the world. We discussed the state of VI at home and abroad. I learned a lot from Wouter as he has long term experience in consultancy and great perspective on client service.”

Day 5 Monday 10/9 – Brussels, Belgium

“On Monday I presented a brown bag webinar to colleagues at the Brussels office and other folks across Europe. The topic of the webinar was Vapor Intrusion in the US and general principles for investigation. It resulted again in an interesting discussion on the differences between US and European investigations. In Belgium, modeling is allowed using an S:Risk model. Interestingly, there are differences in how the model is set up even within the 3-Belgian regions. Karen van Geert, a specialist in Risk and Vapor Intrusion from the Brussels office, indicated that it has been known for 10+ years that the model does not always correlate well with real data collection, however, it’s still acceptable for use. In general, models are run conservatively, and the regulators are comfortable with the results. If the model indicates potential issues from, for example, groundwater, they proceed by collecting indoor air samples. They do not use vapor samples to evaluate the potential for future VI risk; which is something we discussed at length and turned out to be a major difference with how things are done in the US. In the US, there is much focus on potential for future risk if soil vapor is present beneath a building.”

Day 6 Tuesday 10/10 – Darmstadt, Germany: A site visitation

“Today I visited a site in Belgium called the Rodermark with colleague Laura Simone. We discussed current regulations for the site and its future use of the facility as a warehouse. Afterwards, I enjoyed a very nice dinner with Klaus, Arman, and Laura at a pleasant German restaurant in Darmstadt. During this dinner, we talked about our common clients and how to ensure the smooth delivery of services. This led to a discussion about the regulatory climate in Germany, which was very informative.”

Day 7 Wednesday 10/11 – Darmstadt: Exchanging ideas

“The next morning I met with the Darmstadt staff, which consisted of 10 people in total, for whom I presented a presentation on Vapor Intrusion. I received a lot of good questions and, subsequently, a discussion ensued, this time on the differences between sampling methods and evaluation in Germany and the US. German colleagues have used passive soil vapor samplers a few times with good results. In Germany they generally don’t complete full VI evaluations as we do in the US, which I noticed in the UK and Belgium as well. As a result of this observation, we had some good discussions on how to advise clients regarding VI where the regulations don’t insist on full investigations. This resulted in some good ideas for the future to stream-line the delivery of such an investigation to our clients across our many offices worldwide. After this meeting, I travelled further to Milan to visit our Italian office.”

Day 8 Thursday 10/12– Milan, Italy: Exchanging ideas

“The following day I met with one of our Italian colleagues, Marco Frigerio and had a tour of the Arcadis office in Milan. The office is fairly new as its construction was finished in June 2017 and is located in a refurbished manufacturing space. During the tour, Marco explained to me the main businesses Arcadis is involved with in Italy. Again, I brought up the topic of Vapor Intrusion and was interested to hear how they dealt with the matter here in Italy compared to the US and the other European countries I visited. It became clear to me that, in Italy, risk assessment is very important to the process of determining Vapor Intrusion. Based on initial vapor or flux sampling, it is decided whether to remediate a source areas. During this process, there is much focus on the ‘point of compliance’ for groundwater which considers the need to ensure no off-site exposure. Interestingly, Vapor Intrusion investigation in Italy does not focus on the actual indoor air exposure. This is a major difference from how things are done in the US.”

Day 9 Friday 10/13 – Milan

“The next day, I continued my discussion with Andrea Pocher regarding the potential utility of passive soil vapor samplers for site investigation. I informed Andrea and our Milan office that they would need to request a regulatory approval in using a new type of technology, but warned them that this could prove to be challenging. We therefore send some email on to lab to request literature that could be used in this process. Afterwards, I met with Marco Frigerio and his team to discuss capabilities. Marco’s team showed to be very strong and agile; often reacting to client requests and figuring out new services as requested. This is similar to what we see in our US based client support.”

Day 10 Saturday 10/14 – In the Italian pre-Alps

“On my last day in Europe, I went hiking in the mountains above Como, Italy, also known as the ‘pre-Alps’ with Marco and Daniele. We had a really nice view from up high while having lunch at a Refugio, a mountain hut for hikers. We sampled local wines, coffee, and Grappa before finishing the second half of the hike. All in all, it was a perfect ending to an interesting and great experience during.  I feel fortunate to have met some of my European colleagues and appreciate the opportunity given by Quest to exchange many valuable ideas and information.”

The international transfer program Quest, which connects Arcadians from all over the world, is sponsored by the Lovinklaan Foundation.