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Personal takeaways from a most successful NICOLA 2019 Conference

By Nick Hart  – Business Performance and Optimisation Manger, Talbot


Last week #NICOLA – the Network for Industrially Contaminated Land – enjoyed its 5th annual two-day sustainable remediation conference at Krystal Beach Hotel in Gordon’s Bay, Cape Town.

Specialists (and commercial competitors) from local and international industry, consulting, analytical services, as well Dr Tshitangoni from Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries came together to #share, network, and advance scientific best practice. This supports NICOLA’s overall goal of empowering the African contaminated land management sector to identify, assess and manage contaminated land within a science based sustainable best practice framework.

Every one of the presenters contributed to that ethos of sharing best practices, learnings from challenging projects and years of experience, and uplifting the standard of professional sustainable remediation in South Africa and beyond.

In pale summary* of the top-class presentations where people gave freely of their professional experiences, here’s what I took away from each presentation:

@BrandonMcGugan from #IBIS spoke of the Lancet Commission on pollution and health. Astonishingly, 9 million people die annually from pollution. That is 15x conflict deaths, and 3x HIV/Aids, TB and malaria deaths. 92% of those avoidable deaths are in low-to-medium income countries.

Clearly, preventing, controlling and remediating pollution is not just a risk/regulatory checkbox activity.

@HayleyThomas from #Shell presented updates to SuRF (Sustainable Remediation Forum), and environmental, social, economic project indicators.

This presentation recalled my previous role in #JTI supporting/leading environmental risk and remediation projects with what I term Legal, Economic, Social, Ethical (LESE) risks and opportunities.

@AndreaBianchini from #GeoStream presented a case study on chlorinated solvents, where using a worst-case scenario (instead of the RWC and MLC) leads to unnecessarily costly and time-consuming, unsustainable remediation solutions.

Another presentation that reminded me of the potential range in company cost and effort if one doesn’t use the Reasonable Worst Case or Most Likely Case scenarios.

@AlanWilson from #Element discussed the PFOS and 1,4 dioxane Contaminants of Emerging Concern (CECs). In use since the 1950s with a half-life of 41yrs, PFOS is found everywhere including the Arctic, likely from the very first industrial and consumer emissions.

As noted, many contaminants of ‘emerging’ concern have been around for decades. It’s only now we’re understanding their risk to human health or the environment.

@CarlSteyn from #SLR presented on arsenic soil contamination in Mpumalanga, RSA. It emerges that background soil arsenic (high in parts of SA due to geology) solubility does not correlate with total concentration.

My takeaway was that if good correlation exists, it suggests some environmental change (or impact).

@CatherineSmart from #SRK gave a hydrocensus scenario using the fully customisable Survey 123, and the project benefits of capturing data once-off, in the field where possible.

The audience did note some security concerns but, overall, I think we all agreed this approach it the way forward.

@MargaretDuddington from #ERM provided an update on various position papers being developed by NICOLA and professionals aiming for science-based standardised approaches.

It’s exciting to be a member of an organisation not just talking, but actually engaging with stakeholders and contributing to approaches in South Africa.

@SteveKalule from #USK discussed the application of hi-resolution site characterisation techniques for Light Non-Aqueous Phase Liquids (LNAPL) in fractured bedrock. He illustrated different fracture environments and preferential flows, including groundwater pumping effects and storage rebound.

It’s been quite a few years since my HC and NAPL investigation days at WSP and ERM; this was a great refresher.

@MartinSlooijer from #GreenSoil in the Netherlands shared a case study around complete dechlorination in a brackish environment. Using enhanced reductive methods to encourage bioremediation, and tracking biogrowth markers clearly showed subsurface attenuation.

The dreaded up-down-up concentration chart is the bane of consultants’ lives. Use of biomarkers and next-generation sequencing eliminated any doubt about the project’s success.

@Xanthe Adams from #SRK spoke of engineer-scientist collaboration in her Modified Engineering Process for Remediation talk.

This resonated from my time in JTI where HSE-Production collaboration led to massive non-CAPEX, behaviour-based energy savings (17:1 average ROI). Cross-functional collaboration in the Planning phase of PDCA is a fundamental Change Management requirement crucial to the success of complex projects.

@HeidiSnyman from #GolderAssociates presented on remediation of an industrial complex in a challenging social and economic environment, notably on key project considerations, and the perennial importance of poor stormwater management as a subsequent diffuse contamination source.

The above factors and the ultimate project success – despite challenges – I’m sure resonated with all present.

@AndyLee from RSK Europe elucidated the benefits of biomarkers in risk-based remediation. The case study in question ultimately involved different coloured hydrocarbons initially attributed to a neighbour, and only with biomarker analysis was the true onsite source proven.

Often in built-up areas there’s doubt as to the origin of source, or multiple sources, and this is a useful tool to regain much-needed clarity in these situations.

@SimonCole from #AECOM UK rounded off day 1 in the evening with NICOLE’s (our European sister-organisation) work around the blight of asbestos contamination, and why the UK in particular is so affected due to historic imports and ubiquitous use prior to proper risk understanding.

The amount of global import of asbestos by the UK in the 1960s was truly astounding. A tough presentation time slot very well delivered.

@OlivierMaurer from NICOL-Latin America kicked off day 2 with that organisation’s history, journey, and considerable success, and the lessons NICOLA and the wider contaminated land industry might benefit from.

I think some ‘next level’ advice from Olivier on how NICOLA can expand beyond RSA to the rest of Africa.

@JonMcStay from #WSP briefed us with great care on the sub judice matter: A Reappraisal of Disposal to Landfill as a Remediation Option, referring to publicly available reference materials.

A thoroughly interesting (and as usual, entertaining) presentation from Jon.

@JohnSohl from #ColumbiaTechnologies spoke of Separating Deep, Dilute and Diffused Commingled CVOC plumes, where soil type and residual concentration dictate persistent concentrations. The case study demonstrated the need to effectively evaluate complex sites.

I had a mini ‘aha’ moment linked to a site or two with seasonally recurring plumes despite the very apparent lack of surface activity.

@KatlegoMaake from #GolderAssociates presented on nitrate and stable environmental isotopes for source delineation in a mixed land use, and how developed/developing economies’ nitrate sources differ. A case study in using isotope signatures to discretise contaminant sources and liability.

The difference in nitrate sources in particular was new to me. Very interesting.

@LarsvanPassel from #RSK Netherlands shared a hexavalent chromium and CAH case study over 15 years under 150 houses, remediated through molasses injection and bioremediation. Complex plume, several contaminants, various sources, complex stakeholder engagement, clear success.

This sounds like the stakeholder engagement that no one wants to be landed with. Excellent graphics using #GWSDAT.

@DanBailey from #DevLabs gave us an update on the new website.

It’s looking great, project team.

@MarikeSallotdesNoyers from #REMEA gave us three French case studies using zero valent iron to remediate sites contaminated with chlorinated solvents, and different permeable reactive barriers.

Extremely innovative use of traditionally geotechnical heavy equipment directly translatable to the RSA context. Given the interest amongst the audience, I’m hoping for a #NICOLA2020 case study presentation…

@WillemvanBiljon from #GeoPollutionTechnologies explained why sampling of Non-Aqueous Phase Liquids (NAPLs) is essential, and the challenges when sources involve proprietary additives or multiple international import origins, necessitating use of isoprenoid and product analysis matching.

Another innovative use of qualitative data to demonstrably attribute liability. Tops.

@SteveMcKeown from #ERM gave the last presentation of the conference, show-casing cross-slab vapour attenuation data; the differences in petroleum and chlorinated solvent vapour intrusion approaches right from site screening; the art of sampling (and field plumbing); and deriving site-specific attenuation factors.

VI is definitely an ERM strength. The use of site specific attenuation factors (vs published values) seems entirely appropriate in a risk-based approach.

In summary, a most rewarding two days that brought me back to my geological and contaminated land early career.

A big thank you to the above for contributing to move the contaminated land industry forward, and the NICOLA steering group, old and new, for your considerable time behind the scenes.