When Water Invades

Damage to industrial and retail properties from floods and hurricanes goes beyond repairing physical structures.

By Michael Novak

The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season was one for the record books with a succession of storms causing unprecedented and widespread damage to commercial and residential properties. Often, water damage to commercial buildings goes beyond what is visible to a property’s physical structure, and environmental issues left in a storm’s wake are not always obvious or easy to recognize. In the following Q&A, we talk about identifying and addressing environmental issues that could impact industrial buildings and retail properties in the aftermath of a hurricane or flood event.

Q: How does flooding impact a building’s indoor air quality (IAQ)?

A: Standing water is a breeding ground for mold and bacteria, which grow rather quickly. Failure to properly remove contaminated materials, and reduce moisture and humidity can pose a serious health and safety risk to anyone exposed to that environment. Quick action is key as it reduces the scope and cost of the project, as well as the time it takes to remediate. When a property owner calls us about flood damage, we perform a site inspection and testing, and if mold is discovered, a remediation program is designed, which involves removing all mold-damaged materials (drywall, wood, carpet, flooring etc.) and setting up a containment area where all work is performed to minimize mold spores being released into the air. Once the site is cleaned and air quality passes inspection, we help the building owner with his or her rebuilding efforts.

Q: Are there any unique challenges facing retail property owners?

A: Loss of business in the aftermath of a flood can be particularly devastating to retailers, and timely remediation is invaluable here as well. In retail settings there’s a heightened sensitivity to mold and indoor air quality issues from a human resources standpoint as management needs not only to protect its employees, but also shoppers — many of whom can be children — from potential health and safety risks. The finish/fit out of retail stores also tends to be more expensive than other commercial property types, and, therefore, it’s critical not to assume every inch of space is contaminated or impacted.

For many retailers, the aftermath of a flood also causes inventory issues; hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of inventory can be lost. If remediation efforts are handled correctly by a professional environmental consulting firm, a retailer may not necessarily have to discard all inventory that appears to be flood damaged.

It also should be noted that the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has very stringent enforcement of safety and health regulations in retail stores when compared to other commercial property types.

Q: What impact does flooding have on underground/aboveground storage tanks?

A: Storage tanks can become inundated or dislodged by flood waters. Because of this damage, a tank’s contents can be released into the environment causing soil and groundwater contamination. AESI was involved with a project where following a flood an aboveground tank became dislodged and spilled a significant amount of oil throughout the property. After testing and initial reconnaissance, we remediated the site by excavating, removing the effected soil and ground water, and performing post-excavation testing to ensure no further action was required. It’s important to note that in many locations, including New Jersey and New York, these types of spills also need to be reported to the State.

Q: Are there other environmental issues that can impact an industrial or retail property following a flood?

A: Many times, asbestos abatement is part of restoring a business after a flood. When water damages a property, insulation and other building materials become exposed. Building materials in many businesses constructed before the early 1980s contain asbestos; paint in buildings constructed prior to 1978 may contain lead. Both are dangerous to occupants if not remediated correctly. Following a flood event, we test building materials for asbestos, and if any is identified, we quantify those materials, perform all the necessary permitting (local, state and federal), and remove contaminated materials with an asbestos abatement in accordance with all necessary regulations. In these scenarios the environmental issues existed long before the flood, and flood damage is what brings these issues to the forefront.

Q: How essential is prompt action by a business owner following flood damage?

A: Quite simply, it saves the property owner/retailer time and money, reduces liability, and lessens the potential impact on both human health and the environment. While it’s always better to address remediation issues as soon as possible, it’s never too late to lessen flood damage from both a regulatory and liability standpoint.

Q: What are the benefits to working with a firm that handles environmental concerns and post-storm recovery?

A: Our goal is to manage and resolve clients’ environmental concerns and aid in their recovery efforts in a timely, practical, and cost-effective manner. When it comes to flood damage, we consider ourselves “immediate responders” — always ready to go with testing requirements for situations that require renovation, demolition and fast-tracking permitting.

 

— Michael Novak is president of Hoboken, New Jersey-based Atlantic Environmental Solutions Inc. (AESI), a full-service environmental consulting firm.

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