Remediating environmentally impacted sites can be complicated — it’s a process that requires a delicate balance of technical skills, legal experience and regulatory knowledge. This balanced approach can drive down remediation costs, increase efficiencies, improve remedy performance, and safely and efficiently lead to a closure status.

When a potentially responsible party (PRP) at a contaminated site is identified, the concern often centers on the lengthy, complicated and costly process. These parties or site operators need support to navigate the regulatory process and develop strategies that result in more favorable outcomes. A remediation team that begins with the end in mind can assist in taking practical steps to manage the risk profile and avoid common mistakes that otherwise could increase regulatory obligations. This, ultimately, cuts costs and expedites site closure.

Persistent Regulatory and Legal Mindset

It can be difficult for organizations to develop the requisite depth of regulatory understanding — let alone keep pace with the changing world of environmental regulations — involved in successful remediation. Remediation projects succeed when there is a relentless and detail-oriented team that has a wealth of experience navigating these legal and regulatory complexities. This mindset is built on decades of experience interacting with regulatory agencies across the country. When coupled with technical remediation skills, it leads to defensible arguments that often result in reduced action and site closure.

Remediation complexities take on various forms. One common challenge is collecting complex legal and regulatory evidence in support of technical defenses to chart a path to success. To overcome this challenge, it is essential to have a deep understanding of the technical aspects as well as federal and state environmental laws, regulations and protocols.

As a recent example, a multinational transportation and logistics company, with support from Burns & McDonnell, was able to achieve site closure on a site that had been open for over 25 years despite several site closure requests. After a thorough investigation of the site, our team determined that the site could be closed using California’s low threat closure policy. When this site closure approach was denied, Burns & McDonnell provided technical arguments that addressed each regulatory objection with scientific reasoning in front of a regulatory committee. In a second hearing, we successfully negotiated and obtained that the site was eligible for closure, pending a completed supplemental investigation. In this instance, our deep knowledge of state and county regulations, coupled with persistence and a clear understanding of the site conditions, led to a “no further action” closure of the site and helped the company save an estimated $600,000.

Proactive and Collaborative Methods

Remediation efforts benefit from an early-and-often attitude. Whether it’s the development of an accurate conceptual site model (CSM) or the creation of a regulatory and risk assessment framework, these proactive efforts can set a project up for success. To establish a regulatory and risk assessment framework, it’s beneficial to collaborate with regulators to identify goals and parameters from the very beginning. A collaboratively built framework should address each regulatory objection and map out the field work that needs to be completed, minimizing the back-and-forth that occurs between the remediation team and regulators.

This proactive and collaborative approach was critical in a recent project involving multiple sites with ongoing remediation activities spanning more than 30 years. Our team immediately engaged regulators and stakeholders to confirm they had the information they expected to receive, such as front-load studies. Critically, we proactively collaborated with the regulators to establish a framework for site closures. Using the 30 years of historical information and minimizing data gaps, our team addressed all regulatory objections and concluded that there were no remaining threats to soil or groundwater. In less than a year, this proactive and collaborative approach led to a designation of “no further action” for these sites, resulting in significant savings for the client.

No matter the environmental liabilities that exist, each site demands a unique remediation approach that addresses the specific site issues, recent incidents or regulatory complexities. This unique, proven approach is possible when there is a balance among the technical, legal and regulatory experience. A trusted technical consultant with this range of knowledge will relentlessly drive to regulatory site closure.


The most complex and challenging sites require a full range of capabilities, experience and technical knowledge to develop cost-effective remediation solutions.

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Chris D’Sa is a project manager at Burns & McDonnell, where he works on a broad range of environmental projects including site assessment, soil and groundwater remediation, and permitting. Chris has supported several multinational clients as both plaintiffs and defendants in environmental cost recovery litigation; in negotiations with government agencies; and with allocation proceedings, potentially responsible party searches and remediation coordination.