The Environment: Q&A with David Winslow, vice president, GZA GeoEnvironmental

David Winslow is a senior vice president and the district office manager of GZA GeoEnvironmental’s Fairfield office. His main service sector is providing environmental consulting services for contaminated real estate acquisitions and development projects, including environmental due diligence, contaminated soil and groundwater investigations, contaminated soils management/transportation and disposal, remedial designand remediation. He has provided consulting services on brownfield projects in New Jersey, the metropolitan New York area, the Hudson Valley, Upstate New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

Environmental firms work in a large number of areas; give us 3-4 skills that you specialize in.

At GZA, we work in five core service lines: geotechnical engineering, environmental consulting, ecological services, water resources engineering and construction management. Our environmental practice is diverse, including environmental due diligence; brownfield redevelopment; site investigation and remediation; pre-demolition hazardous building material assessments and abatement; industrial hygiene; and environmental permitting.

Give an example of a time when you helped a project stay on time or saved your clients a lot of money (or both) because of your work.

GZA was asked to help enter a project into the New York State Brownfield Cleanup Program. The project involved the demolition of a long-vacant, sprawling psychiatric facility and the site’s redevelopment into a data center for a major financial institution. GZA worked closely with the regulators to enroll the site in the BCP. Despite a very aggressive deadline, the project was successfully enrolled, securing lucrative tax credits for the client. 

We continued to navigate the regulatory process requirements on an accelerated schedule, including enabling construction to start under an interim remedial measure work plan. This allowed construction and remediation to begin prior to final approval of the remedial work plan and issuance of a decision document — assuring the project could meet the schedule. GZA’s diligence and innovative approach saved the client millions of dollars, making those funds accessible for the construction. 

When most people think of remediation issues, they think of the cleanup of Superfund sites. Give examples of how you are used on smaller projects.

While initial environmental regulations were geared toward environmental cleanups of large, high-profile Superfund sites such as Love Canal, science and regulations have since evolved to help protect the public from exposure to lower levels of toxins. Polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are a good example; they are ubiquitous in the urban environment and toxic at low concentrations. 

There are two sources of PAHs: pyrogenic (combustion of organic matter) and petrogenic (petroleum sources). These compounds are prevalent in the environment because the atmosphere deposits them as particles of a natural combustion process and/or they are found in the materials that were historically used as ‘fill’ for low-lying areas (cinders, ash, bricks, cinderblocks and other construction and demolition debris). We find these compounds at many development projects. 

We take measures to protect human health by designing engineering controls such as capping the contaminants with asphalt or building slabs, or by importing clean fill that has been determined to be free of known contaminants. Institutional controls such as deed restrictions are also critical to alert subsequent owners to the presence of these contaminants and to prescribe procedures in case of future disturbance.

At what point during a potential sale or project is it best to bring in your firm for an evaluation?

Bring your environmental consultant into the process early — before the due diligence stage of the contract. Often, we can provide insights to our clients that favorably influence the outcome of their final transaction. This may include identifying environmental issues we are already aware of at or near the site, scheduling issues that may influence the length of time needed for environmental due diligence or pending regulatory updates that may impact the site.

Tell us one more thing we don’t know.

In New Jersey, GZA recommends that both an ASTM Phase I Environmental Site Assessment and a NJDEP Preliminary Assessment be conducted during the due diligence process to meet both the federal and state requirements for the innocent purchaser defense. Combined, these assessments allow a buyer to purchase a property with knowledge of hazardous substance contamination without incurring liability for it as an owner or operator. This reduces the buyer’s long-term risk.