The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently released two official guideline manuals on vapor intrusion emissions. In 2001, regulation of vapor intrusion was just beginning to become part of the Federal Corrective Action Program. The original draft of the guidelines was offered in 2002, But issuance of the final was delayed, in part, because new environmental science showed that EPA’s 2002 draft was obsolete. While the new guidelines were being drafted, many state regulatory agencies developed their own standards using more timely data. The EPA guidelines are designed to create uniform national standards that can be used and relied on by regulated industries, developers, and property owners, and can be applied consistently by government enforcement and regulatory officials.

Vapor Intrusion Defined

Vapor intrusion occurs when volatile chemicals migrate from soil or groundwater that is contaminated to an overlying structure. These chemicals can release vapors that move from the soil and groundwater into indoor air spaces of the buildings akin to the way radon gas can enter a home. The intrusion chemicals include mercury, hydrogen sulfide, radon and other organic compounds.

In severe cases, the vapors can collect in dwellings or other buildings where people live. The effects can cause real safety hazards such as explosions, acute health issues and other problems such as bad odors. Many times the level of the vapors cannot be detected. Other chemicals such as gasoline, cleaners and household solvents may separately, or in combination, create a vapor intrusion condition that poses a harmful health risk.

The New Guidelines

Both guidance publications were issued in June 2015 and both apply to residential and non-residential settings according to an EPA press release.

The press release notes that exposures can often be handled through simple actions such as providing proper ventilation or changing the building pressure. In many cases, the cost to fix the problem is manageable. The sooner actions are taken to correct the vapor intrusion problem, the better for the community’s health.

There are two sets of guidelines. The first guideline publication is the OSWER (Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response) Technical Guide for Assessing and Mitigating the Vapor Intrusion Pathway from Subsurface Vapor Sources to Indoor Air.

This first guidance manual applies to all sites that are being studied, investigated, and cleaned up under CERCLA (“Superfund”), RCRA, and other federal statutes. It also applies to cleanups conducted by other federal agencies, state governments, tribal governments, and to private cleanups conducted by governmental entities and private organizations under federal Brownfields programs.

The second guideline publication, also issued in June 2015, is the Technical Guide for Addressing Petroleum Vapor Intrusion at Leaking Underground Tank Sites.

This second manual is specifically focused on, and solely  applies to, sites where petroleum contamination due to underground storage tanks may cause vapor intrusion.

EPA has chosen to issue this regulatory advice in the form of guidance documents, rather than as regulations, to permit greater flexibility in applying these standards.   According to the disclaimers in the guidance publications, the guidelines do not impose any formal requirements on the EPA, state governments, tribal governments or the regulated community. The statutes and regulations provide the requirements and the EPA reserves the right to examine each situation on a case-by-case basis.

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