Monthly Archives: January 2016

January 27th, 2016

Phase I Environmental Site Assessment Spotlight: File Review

One of the major changes to the Phase I Environmental Site Assessment ASTM standard during the recent revision (E1527-13) is the enhanced requirement to conduct file reviews of government records. This requirement can uncover environmental concerns documented by old building permits, wrecking permits, tank permits, and fire records.

Because this file review can add extra time – and expenses – to a Phase I, not all consultants include this research as part of their standard assessment.  Skipping this part of the due diligence process may result in missing important information, as illustrated by the case study below.

Sometimes municipalities have digitized these older records and can make them available via PDFs.  Other times, we are required to review records in person either on paper files or on microfiche.

Key records we’re looking for include:

  • Fuel or heating oil tank installation/removal
  • Previous uses of the building (eg: rug cleaner; tool & die shop)
  • Fire inspection records regarding storage and usage of hazardous materials
  • Violations caused by environmental concerns (eg: hazardous waste disposal or storage)
  • Permits to upgrade HVAC system which may indicate past use of heating oil

Case Study

Gabriel was conducting a Phase I in a Chicago suburb. This municipality made some of its old permit records available via PDF,

building permit - fuel tank2

“Fuel Tank” highlighted in red on this building permit application from 1957

including old building permits.  On the building permit to the right, we discovered “Fuel Tank” listed on this original application from 1957.  No indication of size or location was provided.

Gabriel then conducted an in-person review of the remaining records the village stored only on microfiche.  On many Fire Department inspection records from 1959-1970s, the heating system is identified as oil-forced air.  There is no documentation found for when the building switched to the current natural gas fueled unit heaters.

Due to the file review of these government records, Gabriel concluded that fuel oil had been used as the heating source at the site for many years, and that an underground fuel oil tank may still exist on site.

No USTs were registered at the site and no visual indications of a UST were found during the site inspection.  Therefore, without this file review, this Recognized Environmental Condition (REC) may have been missed.

If you have questions about how Gabriel uses file reviews in our Phase I research, contact Natalie Neuman, Group Leader Assessment Services, at 773-486-2123 or nneuman[at]gabenv.com.

January 21st, 2016

Loud workplaces causing hearing loss, lower productivity

OSHA estimates that 30 million people in the US are exposed to sound_levels_smallhazardous noise levels at their workplaces each year. Since 2004, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported that nearly 125,000 workers have suffered significant, permanent hearing loss.

A recent study published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine suggests that long-term exposure to excessive noise may lead to increased risk for heart disease.  Past research also linked noise exposure to coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, and other illnesses.

For businesses, excessive noise can lead to lower productivity, reduced communication and concentration, and more workplace accidents and injuries.

How do you know if your workplace is too loud?

  • You hear ringing or humming in your ears when you leave work.
  • You have to shout to be heard by a coworker an arm’s length away
  • You experience temporary hearing loss when you leave work

OSHA sets legal limits on noise exposure, based on an 8 hour day.  For most workplaces, the OSHA permissible exposure limit is 85dBa (A-weighted sound levels).  For construction sites, that level is raised slightly to 90 dBa.

If you are concerned about the noise levels at your workplace, Gabriel can help you measure area sound levels and monitor noise exposure. If noise levels exceed OSHA limits, Gabriel can also help you develop an effective hearing conservation program.

Contact Steve Sawyer, CHMM at ssawyer[at]gabenv.com or 773-486-2123, or Bill Gray at bgray[at]gabenv.com or 773-617-0288, with any questions or for a quote on a noise assessment.

Visit OSHA’s website for more information on Occupational Noise Exposure.

January 19th, 2016

MWRD Update meeting at Calumet Area Industrial Commission

Calumet Area Industrial Commission invites all interested parties to attend their upcoming MWRD UpdCAICate meeting with the Executive Director of the MWRD, David St. Pierre.


Thursday, January 28, 2016

7:30 am – 9:30 am

U.S. Bank (CAIC Office – 11th Floor Board Room)

1000 E. 111th St – Chicago


Cost: Free for CAIC members with RSVPs; $20 all others


Mr. St. Pierre will update attendees on the latest Calumet WRP improvements, disinfection, Ordinance changes, resource recovery, User Charge, the regulatory outlook, and more!

Calumet Area Industrial Commission (CAIC) is a not-for-profit 501(c)3 organization, whose mission is to lead industrial retention and expansion efforts of the Calumet Area in order to create an environment in which the industry will remain and grow.

Find out more at: calumetareaindustrial.com

January 15th, 2016

Flint, Michigan under investigation for poisoned water

Flint city employee flushes out a hydrant.  Photo from CNN.com

Flint city employee flushes out a hydrant. Photo from CNN.com

In a cost-cutting move two years ago, the city of Flint, MI switched its water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River. Unfortunately, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) did not take into account that water from the river has 8 times more chloride than the lake water, which makes it highly corrosive. MDEQ failed to treat this river water with an anti-corrosive agent, so it started eroding the old iron and lead water pipes throughout Flint, leading to water coming into homes with lead, iron, and other contaminants.

Laboratory results lead by an independent Virginia Tech investigation have found that Flint homes have significant levels of lead.  No level of lead in drinking water is considered safe for children to consume, and EPA requires municipal action if more than 10% of customer taps exceed 15ppb lead concentrations.

Lead poisoning can lead to very serious health consequences and is irreversible.  Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha was the first physician in Flint to speak out about the health effects of the contaminated water her patients were drinking.

“If you were to put something in a population to keep them down for generation and generations to come, it would be lead,” Hanna-Attisha said. “It’s a well-known, potent neurotoxin. There’s tons of evidence on what lead does to a child, and it is one of the most damning things that you can do to a population. It drops your IQ, it affects your behavior, it’s been linked to criminality, it has multigenerational impacts. There is no safe level of lead in a child.”

State of Emergency

The State of Michigan has now declared a State of Emergency for Flint, and the National Guard is heading door-to-door to hand out bottled water and water filters.  Flint has switched its water source back to Lake Huron, but the corroded pipes are still leaching lead, iron, and other contaminants into the water supply.

Michigan’s Attorney General and the federal Environmental Protection Agency have opened up investigations to determine who is responsible for this crisis and which laws were broken.  Michigan’s Health Department is investigating whether an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease is related to the contaminated water. MDEQ’s director Dan Wyant resigned on December 29th, and Flint residents are calling on Governor Rick Snyder also to resign.  Health officials will track 10,000 Flint children who may have been poisoned by these contaminants. Health effects from lead poisoning may take years to develop.


Virginia Tech’s Flint Water Study

How Tap Water Became Toxic in Flint, Michigan,” CNN.com, January 13, 2016.

Michigan Prosecutor Opens Probe of Flint Water Crisis,” NBCnews.com, January 15, 2016.

January 6th, 2016

City releases “2012-2015 Sustainable Chicago Highlights & Look Ahead”

sustainable chicago

In recognition of the accomplishments of their sustainability action plan, the City of Chicago has released “2012-2015 Sustainable Chicago Highlights & Look Ahead.

Highlights include:

  • Greencorps Chicago Youth Program, which launched in 2013, has provided paid, sustainability-focused summer jobs for over 2,000 youth over three years
  • Energy Benchmarking ordinance passed with strong early implementation including 1,800+ buildings benchmarking in the second year, covering 20% of citywide building energy use
  • Chicago has risen to #2 in bike friendly cities supported by the creation of 100 miles of better bike lanes and the launch and expansion of the Divvy bike share program to 4,760 bikes parked across the City in solar powered stations
  • Closed the last two coal plants in urban America which operated in Pilsen and Little Village

Look ahead plans include:

  • Conduct citywide greenhouse gas emissions inventory based on 2015 data in partnership with CMAP
  • Expand implementation of the Energy Benchmarking Ordinance to include all municipal, commercial, and residential buildings larger than 50,000 sq. ft.
  • Continue construction of three additional blocks of the Chicago Riverwalk from LaSalle to Lake Street


Chicago Sustainability website: www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/progs/env/sustainable_chicago2015