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Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to Re-Examine up to 4,000 Sites for Vapor Intrusion Risk

Consistent with an emerging nationwide trend, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) is proposing to step up its investigation of vapor intrusion (VI) issues at known sites of contamination. This initiative is in response to new information MDEQ believes indicates that much lower concentrations of VI chemicals of concern may be harmful to human health. Volatile compounds include fuel oils, degreasing solvents, dry-cleaning fluids, paint thinner, printing inks, and other chemical mixing formulations.

MDEQ and the Michigan Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS) will work together to review and prioritize sites for VI risk in what MDEQ representatives have called a data-driven process. A significant issue these departments are working through is to have the same criteria consistently applied by both MDEQ, which favors a risk management approach, and DHHS, which favors a more conservative, zero-risk approach.

While it is unclear exactly how many sites will be investigated or possibly reopened as a result of the initiative, MDEQ estimates that as many as 4,000 sites are of interest. MDEQ has been identifying these sites using a variety of data sources, including Baseline Environmental Assessments (BEAs) conducted to protect purchasers of contaminated property; other likely targets are leaking underground storage tanks (LUST), dry cleaners, and manufacturing and repair facilities that use metal degreasers. This renewed focus on VI may impact “due care” plans at properties that MDEQ considered closed with residual contamination.

The Michigan Governor’s executive budget recommendation for fiscal year 2018-2019 proposes $4.9 million to establish this joint program to address VI, $2.7 million of which would be allocated to MDEQ to fund its cooperative VI review project with DHHS.

Current and former owners, lessees, operators, and other responsible parties of sites impacted or potentially impacted with contaminants that could pose a VI risk should consider re-evaluating their remediation and due care obligations in light of MDEQ’s new initiative.

© 2020 BARNES & THORNBURG LLPNational Law Review, Volume VII, Number 54


About this Author

Charles Denton Environmental Attorney

Charlie Denton represents an array of clients in environmental and toxic tort litigation, enforcement defense, regulatory compliance solutions and pollution insurance coverage disputes. He also serves as an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) neutral mediator and arbitrator. Persistent and highly collaborative, Charlie can take complicated issues and challenges and then identify a strategic path to achieve the client’s objectives.

Charlie’s representation of industrial, municipal, institutional, educational and individual clients includes judicial and administrative environmental...

Tammy Helminski, Barnes Thornburg Law Firm, Grand Rapids, Environmental Law Attorney

Tammy L. Helminski is an associate in the Grand Rapids office of Barnes & Thornburg, and a member of the firm’s Environmental Law Department. Ms. Helminski has experience with environmental due diligence and risk evaluation, project management of large-scale remediation sites involving numerous parties, and assisting manufacturing and developer clients with environmental auditing and compliance. Her litigation experience includes representing clients in cases involving CERCLA, NEPA, RCRA and NREPA, as well as product liability, mold, asbestos, construction and contract litigation matters. 

David Gillay Environmental attorney Barnes Thornburg

David R. Gillay is a partner in Barnes & Thornburg's Environmental Department. Before joining the department in 2001, he obtained an advanced environmental engineering degree and practiced as an environmental consultant on various projects across the country.

David's legal practice primarily concentrates on the following subjects: underground storage tank regulation, including Indiana's Excess Liability Trust Fund; Brownfields projects; remediation projects dealing with soil, surface water and groundwater contamination under a wide variety of regulatory...