Poor Brownfields Assessments Could Lead To Revoked Funds

“Of the 35 AAI [All Appropriate Inquiry] reports we reviewed, from three EPA regions, none contained all the required documentation elements…. Improper AAI investigations introduce risk that the environmental conditions of a property have not been properly or adequately assessed, which may lead to improper decisions about appropriate uses of brownfields properties. Ultimately, threats to human health and the environment could go unrecognized…If conditions merit, EPA is authorized to take back funds from noncompliant grantees.”

That’s how the EPA Office of the Inspector General (OIG) begins its Evaluation Report No. 11-P-0107 – EPA Must Implement Controls to Ensure Proper Investigations Are Conducted at Brownfields Sites – issued February 14, 2011.

According to John P. Bachner, executive vice president of ASFE/The Geoprofessional Business Association, the EPA OIG reviewed a random sample of 35 brownfield-assessment reports prepared under the EPA Brownfields Assessment Grant program. The review found that not even one report complied with all AAI requirements.

“We have no way of knowing to what extent the OIG sample is representative of all the reports developed through the program. But it was a random sample, and on that basis alone the findings are worrisome. And we don’t know if the missing documentation is indicative of other, more serious failures in conduct of a study and development of a report, but it’s simply human nature to judge books by their covers and to assume that, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Be all that as it may, the findings are sobering on their face and underscore the need to select geoprofessional consultants with great care. The failure to do so can result in not just embarrassment, but frustrating and costly delays, public disputes, claims, and, for EPA grantees, a requirement to return thousands of dollars to the federal government.

“We have no way of knowing which firms developed the reports that the OIG reviewed, but we do know that all too many owners and developers treat phase-one environmental site assessments as commodity services to be entrusted to the lowest cost provider, and that all too many environmental professionals are available to oblige such dangerous outlooks, often by applying an off-the-shelf, by-the-numbers approach to each engagement.”

A copy of the new EPA OIG report is available free of charge as a PDF here.