Standardization News

25 Earth Days

Doug Clauson

For a quarter century, one ASTM committee has been a trusted resource for government and industry in environmental remediation.

On April 22, 2015, more than a billion people across 192 countries will participate in the annual celebration of Earth Day. Now in its 45th year, Earth Day promotes the appreciation and protection of the earth's environment.1

A lot has changed since Earth Day was established in 1970, the year many consider the birth of the modern environmental movement. That same year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was created and tasked with both cleaning up and preventing future problems with the environment. Air pollution, contaminated building sites, polluted waterways and other major concerns threatened the health of the environment and the safety of people everywhere.

Over the last 45 years, significant progress has been made in addressing these and many other environmental challenges. Today, we breathe cleaner air, thanks in part to innovations like industrial smokestack scrubbers and automotive catalytic converters. Through its Superfund program, the EPA has worked diligently to rein in the nation's hazardous waste sites, which in turn has helped restore the environmental and economic health of numerous urban and rural communities.2

ASTM Committee E50: Partner for Positive Change

Since 1990, one ASTM technical committee has provided essential standards that help federal and state regulators and the industrial sector solve environmental challenges.

That committee is ASTM E50 on Environmental Assessment, Risk Management and Corrective Action, and its standards guide stakeholders through critical aspects of environmental management and meet shifting needs in the dynamic regulatory landscape.

Former E50 chairman and current member Julie Kilgore, also a former member of the ASTM board, summed up the unique role the committee plays in the environmental arena in a 2011 interview with SN:

"Committee E50 tends to wade into chaotic waters, where emerging issues are not well defined and standard approaches have not been established," said Kilgore, president of Wasatch Environmental in Salt Lake City, Utah. "Many of the standards developed by E50 relate to complex systems, conditions and issues where professional judgment in unique situations is a routine demand. The committee's work is significant because it fills gaps left by agency regulations, or bridges industry needs while regulation is being developed, and it really explains to the affected parties the particular steps they need to take to manage environmental risk."

As Committee E50 celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, the more than 1,000 technical experts that comprise its membership can reflect on a body of work that has contributed to a healthier environment worldwide.

"E50 has brought a new way of thinking to critical environmental issues. The committee's efforts have resulted in numerous watershed standards that have changed the way we approach environmental site assessments, petroleum cleanups, pollutants testing and much more," says Dennis Rounds, E50 chairman and project manager at Morris Inc. in Pierre, South Dakota.

Call to Action on Underground Storage Tanks

One of the first environmental issues tackled by Committee E50 was the risk posed by underground storage tanks, which store gasoline and petroleum. These tanks can leak and contaminate groundwater in local communities. A small amount of petroleum released from a UST at a local gas station presents a hazard to the environment and people living nearby.

In 1984, the EPA had begun to carry out a congressional mandate to regulate USTs across the United States. Through the Leaking Underground Storage Tank Trust Fund, also established by Congress, the EPA receives approximately $100 million annually to prevent, detect and clean up releases from federally regulated USTs. One of E50's first standards, E1990 for performing evaluations of underground storage tank systems, provided valuable support to EPA's efforts. E1990 guides tank owners, operators and other users on UST requirements and management practices. Today, E1990 - which went through its latest revision in 2014 - is cited in the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations as a tool for operational conformance with regulations governing underground storage tanks.

Other recent standards from Subcommittee E50.01 on Storage Tanks include E2681 for environmental management of underground storage tank systems storing hazardous substances, which guides the prevention and response for environmental releases, and E2256 for the hydraulic integrity of new, repaired or reconstructed aboveground storage tank bottoms.

Watershed Standard for Corrective Action

Committee E50's involvement in efforts to regulate and better manage the risks associated with USTs in the mid-1990s laid the groundwork for the release of one of its flagship standards. The committee saw an opportunity to provide guidance on the use of risk-based corrective action (or RBCA, pronounced Rebecca) at petroleum release sites. RBCA categorizes sites according to risk and allows stakeholders to allocate resources for maximum protection of human health and the environment. It also describes the appropriate level of oversight and enables corrective action to move forward quickly.

To propel the implementation of the RBCA strategy, Committee E50 developed E1739 for risk-based corrective action applied at petroleum release sites. E1739 assists regulators in making sound and consistent management decisions for a variety of petroleum sites using a three-tiered approach to data collection and site review, with each tier referring to a different level of complexity.

"E1739 is a groundbreaking standard that changed the way we approach the cleanup process at petroleum sites," says Rounds. "It supports the application of sound science and common sense and enables regulators and other stakeholders to evaluate projects from a risk and exposure standpoint."

Tripp Fischer, chairman of Subcommittee E50.04 on Corrective Action and project manager at Brownfield Science & Technology Inc. in Cochranville, Pennsylvania, adds, "E1739 truly transformed the cleanup process at petroleum sites. With a large population of sites, a cleanup strategy alone isn't viable. E1739 assists regulators in evaluating sites from a human health standpoint, helping to identify and then eliminate exposure pathways."

Nearly all 50 states across the United States have based their environmental corrective actions entirely or partially on E1739. It has enabled state environmental agencies to manage environmental cleanups more effectively through faster case processing rates, reduced environmental cleanup costs and more effective targeting of resources toward higher risk sites. E50's portfolio of RBCA standards also includes E2081, which addresses chemicals other than petroleum, E2205 for protecting ecological resources, and other related standards.

E1527: The Common Language for Environmental Site Assessment

During the 1990s, Committee E50 began work on a new standard that ultimately would become the de facto guide for environmental site assessment. At the time, a pressing need existed among groups involved in commercial real estate transactions - banks, insurance companies, purchasers, environmental consultants, lawyers and others - for a process to conduct an environmental inspection that would meet EPA requirements under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act.

To help guide the evaluation of the environmental condition of commercial real estate, Committee E50 developed E1527 for the Phase I process of environmental site assessments. E1527 provides universal consistency for the first phase of identifying the potential for releases of hazardous substances or petroleum products that could lead to liability for new property owners.

First released in 1993, E1527 has become increasingly influential in the U.S. commercial real estate sector and around the world over the last two decades. Originally intended to assist landowners, E1527 now serves as a foundational tool for purchasers, lenders and regulators involved in commercial real estate transactions. At the end of 2013, the EPA published a final rule that references that year's version of E1527 when conducting environmental site assessments. With this standard, users can satisfy EPA requirements on conducting "all appropriate inquiries" under the scope of CERCLA.

Damian Wach, AIA, vice president, Prudential Mortgage Capital Co. in Newark, New Jersey, views E1527 as the "rule book" for commercial real estate transactions. "Billions of dollars of commercial real estate transactions throughout the U.S. each year rely on the ASTM E1527 standard. It is widely accepted within the real estate sector that any environmental inspection of a commercial property for the purpose of a sale must meet the minimum requirements of E1527. The ASTM standard is essentially the rule book and common language that all parties have agreed to adhere to in the due diligence process," Wach says.

To assist the broad array of stakeholders who utilize E1527, ASTM offers a range of technical and professional training courses. These courses also address E1527's companion standards, including E1528 for the transaction screen process of limited environmental due diligence and E1903 for Phase II environmental site assessment process.

Innovative Remediation Strategies

A newly released standard from Subcommittee E50.04 aims to further transform the cleanup decision making process at petroleum sites. E2856 for estimation of LNAPL (light non-aqueous phase liquids) transmissivity assists environmental professionals in understanding how petroleum products flow through a subsurface.

LNAPL transmissivity is the rate at which a volume of light nonaqueous phase liquid, such as oil, will flow through a unit width of porous material, such as soil. Being able to measure LNAPL transmissivity is an important aspect of environmental assessment work.

"By calculating such a rate, engineers and geologists can make improved decisions on the selection and design of subsurface remediation technologies and determine when hydraulic recovery is no longer practical," says Fischer. "E2856 assists users in using existing data or conducting field experiments to calculate transmissivity and validating whether or not the assumptions in the calculations match field observations."

Two other newly released standards from E50.04 are also advancing environmental goals by facilitating cleanups that reduce demands on natural resources and decrease emissions to the environment. E2893 for greener cleanups provides a process for evaluating implementing, documenting and reporting activities to reduce the environmental footprint of a cleanup. A related standard is E2876 for integrating sustainable objectives into cleanup.

Contributing to Sustainable Infrastructure

The diverse contributions of E50 also extend to the built environment, where the committee's standards support the beneficial reuse of industrial byproducts in the construction of civil infrastructure. Among the most widely used recycled industrial materials in infrastructure construction is coal fly ash. A naturally occurring product of the coal combustion process, fly ash is universally praised for its benefits as a "green" building material that reduces the demand for carbon-intensive portland cement.

Subcommittee E50.03 on Beneficial Use supports industry stakeholders in the use of coal ash through standards such as E2277 for the design and construction of coal ash structural fills. Published in 2014, this standard provides valuable utility for coal fly ash as structural fill for building sites and foundations, embankments for highways and railroads, road bases, dikes and levees.

Turning Landfills into Parks

Subcommittee E50.03 is also helping turn landfills and chemically impacted properties into newly restored sites for public and private use. The committee is developing a first-of-its-kind guide (WK42846) focusing on the restoration of waste sites to public parklands or business parks. Members of the subcommittee include federal, state and local regulators and representatives of the waste, transportation and coal industries.

"The standard will fill a critical need for governmental regulators, providing a step-by-step process for restoring these sites for productive use. Smaller cities and towns with limited environmental resources will be able to rely on the standard as a path to reducing the number of these abandoned sites and creating opportunities for economic development and public recreation," says Marty Rowland, E50 member and senior project manager for environmental remediation at the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation in Queens, New York.

Lowering the Risks of Climate Change

Among the "chaotic" waters that Committee E50 has waded into is the hotly debated issue of climate change. Through the efforts of Subcommittee E50.05 on Environmental Risk Management, a number of ASTM standards now guide corporations in their climate change assessment efforts. Notable among these is E2718, which provides good practices for financial disclosures related to climate change. The corporate sector also benefits from E2725 for basic assessment and management of greenhouse gases, which supports business-related decision making and strategic planning for managing and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The subcommittee has two new climate change standards under development, including guides for integrating climate change risk management into sustainability and greening programs (WK21810), using renewable energy projects on brownfields in climate risk management strategies (WK21811), and adaptation and mitigation for climate change risk (WK21812).

E50.47: Advancing the Science of Toxicity Testing

E50's newest subcommittee has its own proud heritage in contributing to environmental health around the world. Subcommittee E50.47 on Biological Effects and Environmental Fate, a group that E50 chair Rounds refers to as the "science subcommittee," came under the E50 umbrella in 2013 after serving as its own main ASTM committee (the former E47) of the same name for 38 years.

The subcommittee is the source of the first and widely accepted standards for assessing the toxicity and bioavailability of contaminants in water, sediments and soils and their impact on aquatic and terrestrial life. Subcommittee E50.47 standards have made a significant contribution to improving environmental conditions worldwide.

Chris Ingersoll, Ph.D., chairman of Subcommittee E50.47 and an aquatic toxicologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Columbia, Missouri, says, "The enduring impact of E50.47 standards has been their ability to help us to understand the biological effect of contaminants and what we need to do to make our waterways fishable and swimmable. E50.47 standards have served as the impetus for generating the data to determine how we can best regulate and improve the quality of water, sediments and soils.

"Looking back at how far our waterways have come since Earth Day 1970 makes us very proud of the contributions our committee has made," Ingersoll adds.

A major thrust of E50.47's efforts has been in sediment toxicology. Sediment provides habitat for many aquatic organisms and is a major repository for many of the more persistent chemicals that are introduced into surface waters. E50.47 standards provide the scientific and regulatory community with foundational tools for conducting laboratory and field toxicity and bioaccumulation testing of sediments to aquatic organisms. Notable among these are E1706 and E1367 for measuring the toxicity of sediment-associated contaminants, which cover procedures for testing freshwater and marine organisms in the laboratory to evaluate the toxicity of contaminants associated with whole sediments. Similar utility is provided by E1391 for the collection, storage, characterization and manipulation of sediments for toxicological testing and E1688 for determination of the bioaccumulation of sediment-associated contaminants.

As Earth Day 2015 approaches, the world's environmental problems are less severe today, even as new challenges arise. Environmental improvements that have been achieved are linked to the mindful and concrete action taken by industry, consumers, government bodies and other stakeholders to fulfill the broad global mandate for environmental protection - the type of action that Earth Day aimed to instill at its outset in 1970. Supporting them throughout this journey have been the dedicated members of ASTM Committee E50.

Rounds says, "Over the past 25 years, Committee E50 has demonstrated an enduring commitment to delivering timely standards that solve environmental challenges. While our job continues, all of our members can be proud of what has been accomplished to make our world healthier and safer for all."


1. Earth Day Network.

2. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, "40 Years of Achievements, 1970-2010."

Doug Clauson is a freelance writer based in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania.
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