Why Environmental Assessments Start with Documents
Whenever there are plans to build something on a site, an environmental assessment will attempt to discover if there are any potential risks to the health, safety and wellbeing of people based on hazards present as a result of previous uses of the land. This will attempt to answer pertinent questions to determine what risks may be present like:
- Potential explosions from methane gas if the site was previously used as a rubbish dump and landfill site
- Contaminated groundwater
- Radioactive material
- Unstable soil/ground which may cause future buildings to collapse
Many people will be under the impression that environmental assessments are simply a case of visiting the site and looking to see what is there and measuring concentrations of various substances. However it is far quicker, simpler and, most importantly, much more thorough if an investigator knows what they should be looking for and what to find, especially as they can then bring the right tools and equipment with them. As an extreme example, an investigator may not even consider bringing a Geiger counter to measure radioactivity of the site if they have no idea that it was once used for the disposal of nuclear waste.
Where does an investigator start then?
The best way of determining what environmental hazards may be present on the site in question is to start with the study of documents which detail the previous uses (there is likely to be more than one) of the site. By understanding what activities were undertaken there, the associated risks can be quickly and easily determined, and subsequently comprehensive plans and measuring systems devised to assess the risk.
Don't rely on just documents though
Whilst documents about past uses are the best way to start an assessment and will often detail everything that has happened, it is important that an investigator or assessor also keeps in mind that some documents may be missing or be incomplete, so much so that they do not accurately detail every activity that has ever taken place there. As a result, it may be the case that there could be some environmental hazard which may go undetected if the investigator only looks for possible threats based on what they have discovered from the documents which they have studied beforehand. They will therefore need to be open-minded about other potential dangers to health that may exist and be present, and will need to test for this accordingly.