Environmental Consulting Lessons Learned from the World of Analytical Chemistry

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The story of environmental consulting projects all start with what the laboratory results tell us. However, all results are not created equal, and it’s important to know the big picture – site subsurface conditions, regulatory criteria, and chemistry principles – when uncovering culprit contaminants.

At one of Aspect’s recent, ongoing Technical Exchanges, Staff Scientist Andrew Yonkofski invited Mike Erdahl from Environmental Laboratory Friedman and Bruya to discuss the role of analytical chemistry in environmental consulting, including general petroleum chemistry, gas chromatography, and interpreting those results. Part of the discussion was focused on an Aspect-specific case study from a Seattle-area waterfront site. This site presents a unique look at how organic matter in the subsurface can affect results from the NWTPH-Dx analysis.

Lessons learned from the talk included:

  • Common petroleum hydrocarbon mixtures, such as gasoline and diesel, contain thousands of unique organic compounds. The NWTPH-Gx and NWTPH-Dx analytical methodologies attempt to capture the wide range of organic compounds found in petroleum hydrocarbon mixtures.

  • While the laboratory provides a reproduceable, quantifiable number for total petroleum hydrocarbon (TPH) results, those results often need to be interpreted in light of the chromatographic results. For instance, the higher boiling end of gasoline overlaps into the diesel-range. As the gasoline weathers, the proportion of material in the diesel range increases in relation to the total TPH value. Qualifying the diesel results as overlap from gasoline contamination can reduce the number of site-specific contaminant of concerns.

  • Likewise, results using both the NWTPH-Gx and NWTPH-Dx methodologies can sometimes include organic compounds from natural sources including degradation of organic material in the subsurface.

  • To properly characterize a site, environmental consultants must use multiple lines of evidence to determine the nature and extents of contamination. This includes interpreting analytical results and the associated chromatograms in the context of the historical site use.


This chromatogram illustrates how gasoline can overlap into the diesel-range. The diesel results reported by the lab do not indicate a separate diesel release from the gasoline release but rather illustrate how gasoline can overlap into the diesel-range as the product becomes weathered in the subsurface.

This example shows what a chromatogram may look like when there are multiple sources (both gasoline and diesel) present in a sample.

This example shows what a chromatogram may look like when there are multiple sources (both gasoline and diesel) present in a sample.

James Packman Talks Interdisciplinary Skills and Water’s Role in Urban Environmental Planning to UW Class

Senior Hydrologist James Packman recently presented to “Planning as a Profession,” a senior-level urban planning class in the College of the Built Environment at the University of Washington. The nearly 30 students come from different majors and career trajectories—among them are future architects, landscape architects, city planners, urban designers, real estate professionals, construction managers, engineers, environmental scientists, and more.

James Packman, Senior Hydrologist

James Packman, Senior Hydrologist

James’ presentation, entitled “Environmental Skills, Water Resources, and Urban Planning,” gave a holistic view of environmental considerations in urban planning—from the skills and interests that lead a person to the profession and the different disciplines working in the industry to the laws and regulations that drive project design, permitting, and building and examples of water-focused planning. His overarching message focused on interdisciplinary skills, and he gave examples of Aspect projects where collaboration between disciplines was vital to address the environmental elements.

For example, the Waypoint Park project along Bellingham’s shoreline incorporated coastal geology, hydrogeology, stormwater management, civil and geotechnical engineering, landscape architecture, habitat restoration ecology, and more to reclaim a contaminated former industrial site to an urban waterfront park.

Waypoint Park Before and After Construction
City of Bellingham’s Waypoint Park incorporated many environmental planning steps to turn a former industrial site into an urban waterfront park.

James also introduced the practical side of business consulting, or how people and firms pursue and win public work, and walked students through the Request for Qualifications / Request for Proposals process. His key message for being on winning teams is that it requires networking in and outside of one’s discipline and forging relationships with public agency staff to learn their needs.

He ended by going over a homework assignment about the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) checklist process and its key role in urban planning projects. The homework reinforced the variety of environmental disciplines—geology, hydrology, archeology, botany, wildlife biology, engineering, and more—along with professional skills—technical reading comprehension, writing, project management, public speaking, quantitative analysis, and more—that are needed to complete the checklist.

James will present to a new set of students when he returns to the class in Spring Quarter 2019.

Innovative Affordable Housing Solutions Continue in South Seattle

The Seattle City Council recently approved the 2nd Redevelopment Opportunity Zone (ROZ) in Seattle’s history for the 700-unit Grand Street Commons housing development near the future Judkins Park light-rail station. The ROZ designation means that this innovative $20 Million private/non-profit partnership (Lake Union Partners and Mt. Baker Housing, respectively) now has direct access to state funds to build a 700-unit development—with about half of those units earmarked for affordable housing. These 350 future units, together with the 160 units planned at The Maddux (the City’s first ROZ zone near the Mt. Baker light-rail station), brings 500+ ROZ-designated affordable housing units coming online in the next five years in South Seattle.

The 700-unit Grand Street Commons is a unique private/public partnership, where approximately half the units will be affordable housing. The cleanup for this brownfield site is being led by Aspect and funded by a new approach to access money specifically for affordable housing projects.

Aspect, with law firm Perkins Coie, has helped Mt. Baker Housing pioneer this ROZ model to unlock state-backed grant funding in a first-of-its-kind model. Recognizing this success, the state introduced the Healthy Housing Program this fall– earmarked specifically for affordable housing developers looking at restoring land at brownfield sites.

Learn more about new approaches to restore land and find solutions for our affordable housing crisis here: www.aspectconsulting.com/affordablehousing.

November 1 at NWGIS 2018: The Art of the Helpful GIS Presentation

Associate Data Scientist Parker Wittman and Senior Geospatial Data Scientist Blair Deaver will be on a panel — “The Art of the Helpful GIS Presentation” — this Thursday at NWGIS 2018 in Bremerton. The four-person panel presents on tips and techniques to deliver a GIS presentation at a conference or at the office.  Parker will discuss ways to improve the delivery of a presentation and Blair will present on tips to master a successful technical demonstration.

ESRI President Jack Dangermond is giving the highly anticipated keynote speech at this year’s conference on the future of GIS.

Reducing Risk and Uncertainty: A PCE Site, a Model Remedy, and an NFA

No Further Action (NFA) determinations are Washington state’s sought-after finish line for regulatory closure of contaminated sites. An NFA is often the stepping stone for a property owner to secure financing for development of their property and alleviate concerns that their property won’t be put to productive use. NFAs are not easy to get—particularly for former dry cleaner sites, where perchloroethylene (PCE; a dry-cleaning solvent) is a common culprit that can keep a property in regulatory limbo and cause cleanup timelines to be counted in years.

Not a Typical Cleanup: Applying a Model Remedy at a Chlorinated Solvent Site

Aspect had a recent success story where we helped a client achieve an NFA by pursuing site closure through Ecology’s Initial Investigations program using a Model Remedy approach. The premise of this approach is that if you can completely address or clean up a release upon discovery, then you may be able to request an NFA at the initial investigation/reporting stage, thereby circumventing the Voluntary Cleanup Program process.

Identifying and excavating the contaminated soil from inside the store led to a successful No Further Action determination for the Site.

Identifying and excavating the contaminated soil from inside the store led to a successful No Further Action determination for the Site.

The project site, located in Kent, was a former dry cleaner with PCE impacts limited to shallow soil around the dry-cleaning machine. Following Aspect’s Phase I/II ESA investigation as part of a pending property transaction, we implemented a cleanup action after our client purchased the property. The space inside the store was limited, and the excavation was surgical. Confirmation soil sample results following the excavation were below Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA) Method A cleanup levels. Instead of entering the VCP and facing delays with Ecology’s backlog of VCP sites, we instead reported the release to Ecology within the framework of a Remedial Investigation and Cleanup Action Report, with the completed excavation and off-site disposal of contaminated soil presented as a model remedy.

Reducing Risk and Uncertainty

After follow up discussion and negotiation with Ecology’s Initial Investigations coordinator, the site recently received an NFA. Though there may not be many PCE-impacted sites where the contamination is limited to shallow soil, it pays to know the options if this is the case. Model remedies are more commonly applied to petroleum-impacted sites. However, because Aspect was on the lookout and understood the regulatory framework for achieving closure, we were able to help our client significantly reduce risk and uncertainty when weighing prospective property purchases.

The Model Remedy approach is a strategy that Aspect has used on several sites with success and, under the right set of circumstances, can be an efficient regulatory pathway for property owners seeking an NFA.

Contact Eric Marhofer or Doug Hillman to learn more.

New Seattle Address. Same Focus on Earth Science and Engineering.

As we near 20 years in business, Aspect has moved its Seattle office to a new address and bigger space in Seattle’s iconic Dexter Horton building. Our expanding client base and growing staff—now over 100 strong across seven offices in Washington and Oregon—is driving the move.

“The Pacific Northwest is thriving and so is the demand for our earth and water services,” says Tim Flynn, Aspect’s President. “This move represents the culmination of almost two decades of upward growth driven by clients in the Seattle market and throughout the Pacific Northwest.”

The Dexter Horton building—located in the heart of Seattle—has a combination of grand architectural aesthetic with innovative modern features. The 1926 building is a historical landmark as well as LEED Gold-certified. Aspect’s office on the 5th floor was designed intentionally to provide clients and staff with a variety of ways to collaborate, including open layout areas and comfortable meeting spaces.

Come visit us at 710 Second Ave, Suite 550, Seattle, WA 98104!

Learn how to get here/where to park/what to eat.

Aspect's Henry Haselton and Dave McCormack to Co-Chair Upcoming Landslide Seminar

Principal Geotechnical Engineer Henry Haselton, PE, PMP, and Principal Engineering Geologist Dave McCormack, LEG, LHG, will serve as co-chairs on the upcoming Landslides program for The Seminar Group on Thursday, October 25, 2018, at 9 am the Washington Athletic Club. This seminar covers the science behind slope movement and landslides in Washington and discusses the liability concerns for a wide audience of attorneys, claims professionals, and real estate experts. Henry and Dave’s presentation will focus on the science of landslides, including the different types, their causes, and methods for stabilization.

Register to attend today.

Aspect’s Tom Atkins Presenting at ECOSS’s 201X: Stormwater Management Workshop

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On October 18th and 19th, ECOSS will be hosting 201X: Advanced Stormwater Management, a two-day workshop that looks at Industrial Stormwater General Permit (ISGP) requirements and compliance. This event is geared toward helping permittees, consultants, and engineers gain a deeper understanding of the permit by presenting several case studies and touring industrial sites with installed treatment technologies.

Aspect’s Tom Atkins will present the case study, “Alternative Pathways to Achieving Level 3 Corrective Action Requirements.” His presentation will include 3 case studies featuring roof downspout filters, pressurized filtration, adsorptive media, and discharge to publicly owned treatment works (POTW).

Learn more about the workshop HERE.

Aspect Joins The Nature Conservancy and Microsoft to Hack for Good

Aspect’s Curtis Nickerson and Bryan Berkompas recently participated in a Hackathon with The Nature Conservancy and Microsoft employees. The Hack for Good event focused on developing low-cost stormwater monitoring solutions that could identify pollutants and collect data in real time.

Read more about this event on the Nature Conservancy's website.

Henry Haselton named President-Elect of ASCE Seattle Section

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) – Seattle Section has a new President-Elect: Aspect’s Principal Engineer Henry Haselton.

Henry was voted in by the Seattle Section in June. He will serve as President-Elect under incoming President Eset Alemu this year, and then transition to President in October 2019. Henry has been a member of the ASCE since joining the student chapter 26 years ago and has served on several committees, most recently as Program Co-Chair, where he was tasked with brainstorming meeting topics and recruiting speakers for the section’s monthly dinner meetings.

As part of his transition to President-Elect, Henry attended the ASCE Region 8 Fall Assembly Meeting in Spokane, where he met leadership from all the western states and ASCE National President Kristina Swallow. Attendees were treated to an “engineers tour” of the Grand Coulee dam, where they learned about the inner workings of the dam from an experienced operator at the facility.

Henry also recently attended the ASCE President and Governors Forum (PGF) Event in Washington D.C., where he participated in trainings with ASCE leaders from around the world. The PGF training provides best practices to effectively lead a Section/Branch.

Henry is joined by other Aspect colleagues in the ASCE Seattle Section. Project Geotechnical Engineer Spencer Ambauen, EIT, is taking over Henry’s position as Program Co-Chair. Staff Engineer Mari Otto, EIT, is in her second term as Host and Hospitality Co-Chair, where she coordinates with the host venue and oversees meeting registration.

Aspect’s ASCE team kicked off the 2018-2019 season earlier in September with presentations on the upcoming demolition of the SR99 Viaduct and the Pier 62 Replacement, a project where Aspect is the geotechnical engineer-of-record. The ASCE Seattle Section Geotechnical Group’s first dinner meeting of the season was on Thursday, September 27 in Seattle. Professor Russell A. Green, PhD, a Professor of Civil Engineering at Virginia Tech, spoke on region-specific probabilistic liquefaction hazard analyses through a pilot study done in the Netherlands due to induced seismicity from natural gas production. Learn about upcoming events here.

Washington State Helps Turn Brownfields into Affordable Housing

See Washington State Department of Ecology’s new article covering the state’s new Healthy Housing Remediation Program for restoring contaminated land to promote affordable housing. Mt. Baker Housing’s 160-unit project in South Seattle — which Aspect is leading the cleanup for — was the inspiration for this program.

Read more here.

Learn more here: https://www.aspectconsulting.com/affordablehousing

Visualizing Stormwater Infiltration + Visualizing the Story

Aspect recently led a first-of-its-kind approach to help the City of SeaTac (City) understand water quality requirements at the land use planning stage. Aspect, along with Robin Kirschbaum, developed publicly-available webmaps that visualize stormwater infiltration potential at a parcel level across the City’s 10 square miles. These maps will help both City planners as well as developers screen development options with infiltration requirements and make this step of the land use planning process much more efficient.

Take a look at the interactive Story Map for this exciting new tool here: https://maps.aspectconsulting.com/lidmapjournal/index.html.

Read Emelie’s article in the Daily Journal of Commerce about this pioneering project.

Aspect’s Henry Haselton and Dave McCormack Join October Landslide Seminar

Aspect’s Principal Geotechnical Engineer Henry Haselton and Principal Engineering Geologist Dave McCormack will participate as faculty at The Seminar Group's Landslides program on October 25, 2018 at the Washington Athletic Club in Seattle. This seminar covers the science behind slope movement and landslides in Washington and discusses the liability concerns for a wide audience of attorneys, claims professionals, and real estate experts.

Register to attend today.

Central-Washington Geology: Field Trip!

Rocks have histories and their histories tell us stories. 

This was the underlying theme of Aspect’s recent seminar on central Washington geology, led by esteemed experts Dr. Kathy Troost, LG, of Troost Geosciences and the University of Washington and Dr. Eric Cheney, Geology Professor Emeritus at UW. While topography alone makes clear the relevance of geology to the eastern Washington landscape, less sure is how the regional setting impacts the realm of projects—those distinct points on and below the ground where Aspect’s earth science and engineering work enters in. 

Over two days in June, staff from across Aspect’s offices came together to learn about big-picture geology and earth processes related to 66 million years of local history, and then travel to the outcrops to see the deposits firsthand. Woven throughout were the contributions of each person’s unique experiences with geology and relevant insights from nearby project sites. Together, the balance provided each of us the tools to make sense of an otherwise complex landscape; a way to break it down into manageable pieces, put it back together, and learn what it has to tell.

Learn about Washington Water Law

Aspect’s water law expert, Dan Haller, will be presenting on Water Banking for Agricultural Water Supplies at the 27th Annual Water Law in Washington conference (June 14-15). This year’s conference focuses on major legislative changes, new case law, and important practical information for water rights and resource management in the State of Washington.

Washington State’s First Affordable Housing Fund for Contaminated Sites: Applications Due June 30th

The Washington State Departments of Ecology and Commerce have created an innovative new program that will provide grants to affordable housing developers seeking to redevelop contaminated properties and increase the state’s housing stock.

The Healthy Housing Remediation Program will provide grant funds to nonprofit and private housing organizations to evaluate, investigate, and clean up contaminated properties to support the development of affordable housing. It was created by the Washington State Legislature during the 2018 session and will be funded in the 2019 session.

The program builds upon the successful partnership between Ecology and the Mt. Baker Housing Association on the Gateway Project in Seattle. Mt. Baker Housing’s Gateway Project will redevelop several contaminated properties for affordable housing near transit hubs in Seattle’s Rainier Valley. Aspect and law firm Perkins Coie — with lead counsel Mike Dunning — serve as Mt. Baker Housing’s environmental team on the Gateway Project. Perkins Coie and Aspect have worked directly with Ecology and Mt. Baker Housing to build this unique concept.

Ecology and Commerce started soliciting applications for the program on June 1 and the application period closes June 30. Perkins Coie and Aspect can help interested organizations complete and send in their applications. This needs to happen as soon as possible to meet the June 30 deadline.

If you have any questions about the Healthy Housing Remediation Program or about redeveloping contaminated properties for housing, please contact Dave Cook at 206.838.5837 and at dcook@aspectconsulting.com or Mike Dunning at 206.359.3464 and at mdunning@perkinscoie.com.

Before and after conceptual image of Mt. Baker Gateway Project  in South Seattle – one of the affordable housing cleanup sites that the Healthy Housing program is inspired from.

Next Step in Icicle Creek Basin Solution – June 27 Public Hearing in Leavenworth

Taking the next step in a process that began in 2012, Chelan County and the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology)  have released the Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) for the Icicle Creek Water Resource Management Strategy (Icicle Strategy). The Draft PEIS will be summarized and discussed at a public hearing on Wednesday, June 27 from 4pm to 8pm at Leavenworth Festhalle, 1001 Front Street, Leavenworth, WA. The PEIS evaluates five alternatives to help the Icicle Work Group (IWG) map out a solution for instream flow, tribal, agricultural, domestic, and recreational water needs for the Icicle Creek Subbasin in central Washington.

See Chelan County’s Icicle Strategy website for more information. Aspect has helped coordinate the development of the PEIS, along with multiple teaming partners and co-leads Chelan County and Ecology.

Water Banking in the West

Water banking is increasingly being looked at as an innovative approach to storing and releasing water in water-challenged areas of the West. In May’s issue of The Water Report, Aspect’s Dan Haller wrote an in-depth look at water banking in Washington state, how it compares to the rest of the West, and what recent legislative changes mean for the successful adoption of this water supply tool. Click below to read the article. 

Strengthening our Water Resources Services with Jon Turk and James Bush

Aspect strengthens its water resources practice with the addition of Associate Hydrogeologist Jon Turk, LHG and Project Hydrogeologist James Bush, LHG. Jon is a hydrogeologist with over 16 years of experience focused on quantitative hydrogeology for water, wastewater, and industrial markets for public agencies and private industry. He will work out of Olympia, supporting Aspect’s Seattle office as well as expanding Aspect’s capabilities for clients in the south Puget Sound area. James brings over seven years of hydrogeologic and numerical modeling experience for groundwater projects.

Jon Turk

Jon Turk

James Bush

James Bush

“Jon’s background and expertise are a seamless match with Aspect’s water resources client base,” says Tim Flynn, Aspect’s President. “We’re also excited to continue to introduce Aspect to all the south Puget Sound and western Washington clients that Jon has built strong relationships with.”

While at his previous firm, Brown and Caldwell, Jon led an integrated water resources management team providing regional leadership and national consulting for complex and integrated surface water and groundwater systems. He brings recognized skill in groundwater recharge, water supply management, wastewater reuse, and numerical modeling for clean water projects as well as site remediation support for Brownfields and Superfund projects. James also comes from Brown and Caldwell, where he was a primary technical contributor to groundwater projects, environmental site characterization, and numerical modeling projects throughout Washington, Oregon, and the western United States.

“I’m excited to join the Aspect team and proud to join such a talented group of consultants,” says Jon.  “I’ve always considered Aspect as one of the premier hydrogeologic consultancies in the region, with a strong brand that truly values both innovative and practical approaches to solving complex water resource challenges.”