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A Mississippi Business Journal Q&A

Looking out for mold and other environmental hazards

Well adept in the areas of environmental cleanup, Corbin McGriff has seen the dirtier side of the engineering profession for nearly three decades.

During that time, McGriff has served in many areas of the environmental engineering field, as president and director of operations of two environmental consulting firms in Mississippi and as a consultant on a broad range of projects for the public and private sector.

McGriff, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering from Auburn University and a doctoral degree in environmental health engineering from the University of Kansas, was a professor of environmental engineering at Mississippi State University, a research associate of environmental engineering at the University of Kansas, a civil engineering professor at The Citadel and a design engineering consultant at Piedmont Engineering & Architects in Charleston, S.C.

A registered professional engineer in 10 Southern states with a real estate sales license in Mississippi, McGriff is the project director of all Hazclean projects, and has assisted many industries as a liaison with regulators on compliance resolution matters.

The Mississippi Business Journal chatted with McGriff about engineering issues the industry faces, opportunities and challenges as a result of state and federal Brownfields programs, red flags that businesses should look out for and the services his company offers.

Mississippi Business Journal: What are the opportunities available now both for Hazclean and economic development in general with the enactment and further revisions of the state and federal Brownfields programs?

Corbin McGriff: On January 11, 2001, President Bush signed the Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act into law. This act is to provide certain relief for small businesses from liability under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA or Superfund), and to amend the act to promote the cleanup and reuse of Brownfields, to provide financial assistance for Brownfields revitalization, to enhance state response programs, and for other purposes.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines Brownfields as abandoned, idle or vacant industrial and commercial sites where redevelopment or reuse is complicated by real or perceived environmental contamination. The U.S. is estimated to have between 450,000 and 600,000 Brownfield sites, typically in poor areas. The State of Mississippi is estimated to have over 1,000 Brownfield sites. Brownfields can be small gas stations or abandoned industrial sites.
For the private sector, Brownfields are chances for informed investors, developers and entrepreneurs to buy commercial or industrial properties at below-market prices, clean them up at lower costs, obtain financial, regulatory and technical assistance for the projects, and to make profits. State and local governments often give a variety of low interest loans, waiver of impact and permit economic incentives to those who redevelop Brownfields, including grants, tax exemptions or abatements, low fees, faster development approvals and marketing and promotional assistance. The State of Mississippi has an act cited as the “Mississippi Brownfields Voluntary Cleanup and Redevelopment Act.”

The federal bill has reformed liability procedures, providing more protection for prospective purchasers and innocent landowners while increasing funding for state and local programs to help clean up Brownfields. The federal budget was announced for fiscal year 2003, which was proposed to double the funding to EPA’s Brownfields Program from $98 million in 2003, to $200 million in 2003 and $250 million in 2004.

MBJ: As concern about mold and other contaminants grows both in the home and with tightly sealed office buildings, tell us about your Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Investigation Program.

CM: Hazclean has had numerous inquiries from attorneys, insurance claims adjusters and other professionals concerning indoor air quality problems in the workplace and private residences. As private individuals are hearing more and more about mold-related issues, they are becoming aware of their surroundings and the possibility of health problems due to mold and bacterial contamination found in their homes. Because of these concerns, Hazclean has developed an IAQ Investigation Program with specific emphasis on diagnosis of the indoor air quality problem. The goal of the diagnostic approach of the IAQ program is to identify and solve the indoor air quality complaint, to prevent it from recurring, and to eliminate other real or potential problems.

Hazclean recommends a common sense approach to building owners and homeowners by following the guidelines provided herein. Additionally, individuals and building owners facing an immediate indoor mold problem should seek the assistance of a professional experienced in conducting indoor air quality investigations and solving site remediation and restoration. It is essential to check references and the procedures followed by the professional, which should comply with the guidelines of the American Conference of Government Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) as well as the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the EPA. Should you have a specific question or problem, please feel free to contact the Hazclean professionals at (601) 92-0766 or e-mail info@hazclean.com.

MBJ: What engineering issues are facing the environmental consulting industry?

CM: The major issue facing the environmental engineering industry (design and construction) is the replacement of an aged infrastructure, i.e, water and wastewater systems. Most of the infrastructure has been in place for 30 to 40 years and is in need of upgrading and/or replacement. Indoor air quality continues to be a major issue because of the human exposure to building/household air.

MBJ: What new technologies are in place or soon to be in place for dealing with environmental issues both indoors and outdoors?

CM: The use of ozone to treat indoor and ambient air has gained popularity in recent years and has emerged as an effective control technology for biological, chemical and odor problems. Also, ozone has been used to disinfect drinking water. Additionally, new technology such as biological systems (microorganisms on wood chips) has been used to control odors and chemical emissions from certain industrial sources.

MBJ: Tell us about how your industry continues to grow even in the face of economic downturns.

CM: The industry is regulatory-driven and remains relatively flat in terms of growth as a result of the political climate. Approximately 20% of the environmental consulting firms have gone out of business. However, a significant number of one- and two-person firms have grown out of the closures of large firms. The large firms have gotten larger and the small firms have gotten smaller. The main environmental business that supports Hazclean Environmental Consultants Inc., and many environmental engineering firms is the compliance management service. This service provides corporate management an insurance policy and protects the management and the company from environmental liabilities.

MBJ: What new government regulations should business owners be aware of?

CM: Probably the most significant issue is the change in the EPA’s disposition toward the regulated community. Historically, EPA emphasized technology and information transfer to assist the regulated community’s compliance with the regulations. Today, the emphasis is on enforcement. EPA has been quite active in conducting site audits and inspections, which can result in significant violations and associated penalties.

Stormwater regulations, which affect the construction and development industries, have presented a challenge to developers. The stormwater regulations require a permit and preparation and implementation of a site-specific stormwater management plan for those sites greater than five acres. Recently, Wal-Mart agreed to pay a record $3.1 million to EPA to settle stormwater violations at sites of five acres or more in nine states. Also, those realtors and developers involved in property transactions, who conduct environmental due diligence prior to purchasing, will be required to conduct a more stringent environmental assessment (Phase I ESA).

The EPA-proposed approach is known as “All Appropriate Inquiry” (AAI), which must be followed to protect themselves from CERCLA cleanup liability should they purchase a contaminated property. Since 1986, CERCLA has provided property owners with the “innocent landowner” defense, which can protect the owner from cleanup liability for pre-existing contamination if the owner conducted the AAI “ into the previous ownership and uses of the property” prior to purchase, and if the results did not reveal the presence of contamination.

MBJ: Are the environmental issues and regulations being faced by businesses becoming so monumental and complex that we are in danger of stifling growth of existing firms or hurting entrepreneurship, and how do environmental consultants mitigate those pressures?

CM: Actually, the current political climate has restricted the reauthorization of many of the major environmental acts, such as the CERCLA or Superfund, The Clean Air Act and The Clean Water Act. The majority of the regulated community has adapted to the current regulations and has incorporated cost of compliance management into the cost of doing business. Those regulated entities that do not comply with applicable regulations, and receive economic gain from not complying, will eventually experience financial penalties and maybe punitive penalties.
The job of the environmental engineering firm is to assist the regulated community with establishing and maintaining compliance with all applicable regulations. Basically, this proactive environmental compliance management is simply an insurance policy protecting against regulatory enforcement issues.

MBJ: What services does Hazclean offer Mississippi business and governmental entities?

CM: As our major service line, Hazclean offers a comprehensive regulatory auditing and compliance program.
Additionally, a complete line of services is provided to support the auditing and compliance program, such as site investigations, permitting, engineering design, industrial hygiene, indoor air quality and regulatory compliance assistance.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at mbj@thewritingdesk.com.


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