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Halifax Convention Centre, 1650 Argyle Street, Halifax, NS
June 4-5, 2019 

Managing Uncertainties in PFAS Site Investigation Design and Communicating Project Findings in an Evolving Practice
Rosa Gwinn, Claire Mitchell, Jennifer Li
The objective of this presentation is to share lessons on managing uncertainty learned from executing over 100 preliminary assessments and a dozen site inspections for PFAS.

While contaminant investigation is a mature professional practice, investigation of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) presents new challenges to practitioners because of the uncertainties associated with PFAS releases, evolving PFAS regulations, and uncertainties in risk evaluation. As a means of managing the uncertainties surrounding emerging contaminants, PFAS site owners and their environmental consultants can apply quantitative and qualitative methods as well as creative contract management approaches to manage uncertainty throughout an investigation. This presentation provides examples from our corporate project experience addressing and managing uncertainty at several project phases, while acknowledging that the emerging contaminants have evolving concerns—and lessons are being learned continually.

The main source of PFAS at military sites is from training or application of aqueous film forming foam (AFFF), following the United States (US) Department of Defense (DOD) military specification for fighting petroleum fires in the 1970s-1980s. AFFF was considered – in fact promoted as – environmentally benign, and was not subject to tracking or inventory as a hazardous waste. The training and application of AFFF is, therefore, not captured in written records, and releases to the environment are largely based on uncertain sources such as personnel recollection (e.g., interviews) and aerial imagery. Practically speaking, it is challenging to design an investigative approach when the PFAS release location and magnitude carry such a high degree of uncertainty. Moreover, changes to releases areas in the ensuing decades – including, for example, the remediation of a fire training area – also introduce risk in achieving sampling goals.

We will present examples of applying statistical tools – such as Visual Sample Plan or VSP – for quantitatively managing uncertainty in sampling design at sites of uncertain size and location. The method will consider the potential size of a release, the tolerance for missing a release, and the magnitude (i.e., cost) of a sampling program to achieve the data quality objectives. Additionally, we will discuss how using a statistical tool may be coupled with contracting mechanisms to account for uncertainty while simultaneously protecting against uncontrolled levels of effort. This can be achieved through a ‘menu-driven’ contracting structure allowing flexibility in sampling design and approach. Ultimately, once data are collected, communicating the uncertainty in sampling results can also be managed, if stakeholders are engaged throughout approach development.

As regulations, toxicology, and site knowledge are playing catch-up to the health concern presented by PFAS in drinking water, certain environmental science tools can help communicate and explain the uncertainties in findings. Depending on the audience, a creative combination of quantitative and/or qualitative tools may be warranted.

Rosa Gwinn, Technology and Resource Leader, AECOM
Dr. Rosa Gwinn has provided technical and project management expertise to private and government clients for over 25 years in environmental contamination including conventional and emerging contaminants. Her specialty focus areas range from bioremediation to applying statistics to environmental questions relating to risk, distribution, and trends. She developed an incremental sampling methodology to characterize the level of munitions constituents in stream sediments. For the last 10 years, she has managed large scale, performance-based sampling programs at federal installations located throughout the United States and its territories for the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the Army National Guard (ARNG) that focus on munitions constituents and PFAS.

Managing PFAS Risk Programmatically Through an Established and Robust Stakeholder and Community Engagement Program
Nathan Hagelin1 and Leisa Prowse2
2Leisa Prowse Consulting
The objective of this presentation is to demonstrate, through case study, that a robust and deliberate, well-crafted and executed community engagement program results in trust and builds confidence in the technical work performed during a PFAS investigation program.

Introduction: Managing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) risk presents challenges from many angles both technical and regulatory. The world has largely been taken off guard by the scale and pace of the problem, misconceptions, media frenzy, adversarial relations, and a shortage of reliable information and tools contribute substantially to this emerging challenge. In this difficult environment, stakeholder and community engagement is crucial. Stakeholder and community engagement must be proactive, robust, well documented, well staffed, nimble, and adroit. Australia’s Department of Defence PFAS Investigation and Management Program has a model stakeholder and community engagement program in place, which aims to keep the community informed and involved.

Objective: The Lavarack Barracks Environmental Investigation is one of 13 investigations currently being conducted across Australia by the Department of Defence. Lavarack Barracks, located in Townsville in North Queensland, has delivered a stakeholder and community engagement process consistent with the Department of Defence’s approach to engagement across Australia, while also addressing differences in the local community. Consistent information is delivered, the community is involved, and media interest is proactively managed. PFAS, by their very nature, present acute and persistent challenges that require deliberate action. What is unknown about PFAS from a human health perspective is as challenging to manage as the widespread contamination that has penetrated many communities. Engagement, through carefully constructed and truthful, frequent, and accessible messaging, is key to establishing trust and credibility with stakeholders ranging from community members to local and state regulators, health officials, and watchdog organisations.

Methodology: The Lavarack Barracks stakeholder and community engagement process uses multiple complimentary systems to inform and involve interested community members. Both procedure and tools are presented and shared. A database sits behind the engagement process, and all interactions with stakeholders and community members are captured. There is a page on the Defence website that provides contact information for the project team, including a telephone hotline, and an email address. Same-day responses are offered to enquiries. Fact sheets and project updates prepared for the project are stored and kept current on the webpage, along with project deliverables. At the outset of the project, a survey was used to gather information about the use of bore and surface water in the investigation area. Community walk-in sessions have been held regularly, and are attended by the project team, and representatives from Defence and regulatory agencies. The answers to project Frequently Asked Questions are comprehensive and messaging is consistent across the project, and between other Defence investigations. The walk-in sessions are scheduled in accessible locations and are promoted using print and online advertisements. We have delivered these sessions at a conference venue, at the local stadium, and in a local shopping centre, helping us to reach diverse community members. A spokesperson is nominated for communication with the media.

Conclusions: The net result of this carefully planned program, executed in the residential suburbs adjacent to Lavarack Barracks, is consistency, transparency, confidence, and trust to the maximum extent possible in an environment of uncertainty and unknowns. This presentation will draw on the experience at Lavarack Barracks to highlight the most effective tools for stakeholder and community engagement, as well as key lessons learned through the delivery of the engagement process.

Leisa Prowse, Director, Leisa Prowse Consulting
Leisa Prowse has more than 25 years experience in community and stakeholder engagement, communication, social impact assessment, and local and regional planning. With a rare blend of communication and town planning qualifications, and more than 200 projects under her belt, Leisa understands complex and contentious planning and infrastructure projects.

Leisa has a proven track record in developing and implementing comprehensive engagement and communication strategies, delivering the full range of techniques and successfully managing sensitive stakeholder and community issues. Leisa is skilled at facilitating discussions with individuals and groups ranging in size from five people to 5,000, and she has worked with communities in urban, regional and remote areas, and stakeholders representing a range of cultural groups.

Leisa is a member of the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) and IAP2 Australasia Ambassador.

Community Engagement: “To Engage or Not to Engage. That is the Question.”
Vicki Pearce2 and Brendan Bilston1
1Conscia Pty Ltd.
The objective of this presentation is to discuss the benefits of a proactive public engagement process, regardless of the apparent level of public interest.

Background. Engaging with the public on any issue can be challenging due to differing interests, education, language, cultural backgrounds and the like of those being consulted. The engagement becomes more challenging when an emotive issue like contamination is being discussed and the challenge is again magnified when the contaminant is emerging and there is uncertainty regarding health and environmental impacts and limited regulatory criteria exists.

When a community or the public at large do not appear overly interested during initial engagement on an issue like per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), it is reasonable to conclude that they are not significantly concerned, and ongoing engagement inevitably becomes less of a priority. However, the public will express limited interest until something occurs and then they will become very interested, very quickly. It is not always possible to proactively predict what will gain the interest of the public and when the engagement should be become more of a priority.

In Australia, contamination as a result of legacy use of aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) started to emerge as an issue for landholders including fire authorities, Defence and airport corporations as well as airport and environmental regulators from around 2010/11. Between that time and the latter part of 2015, PFAS contamination was identified on a number of properties across Australia and targeted community engagement was conducted. In some locations, alternative water was provided to multiple households, but the level of public concern appeared to be localised to the immediate community affected and often, only a few people within those affected communities. In early September 2015 a State regulator announced that PFAS contamination had been identified in a fishing area at one location and when a local newspaper, which was part of a larger national media consortium, extensively reported on the issue, the limited public concern changed overnight. In response, governments across Australia quickly prioritised the investigation and management of PFAS contamination. The significant interest from the public, media and politicians was unparalleled for the contamination industry and it took some time for the public to receive the information it was seeking and for that information to be provided in a way that could be easily understood.

Lessons Learned. If information is not available from trusted sources, the gap will be filled by various other means: word of mouth, Google, and the media. Providing researched and credible scientific facts to the public will be unlikely to fill the information gap and will instead often increase fear, anger, anxiety and general frustration in affected communities when a similarly well researched and scientific alternative view is identified. Once the trust of the public is lost, it will take months or potentially years to regain it. A proactive public engagement process which includes regular updates regardless of the apparent level of public interest will be more likely to result in long term benefits.

Vicki Pearce, Senior Associate, Conscia Pty Ltd.
Vicki Pearce’s experience is founded on 19 years with the Australian Department of Defence. Vicki has delivered multiple civil works programs with an annual capex budget of $40 – 100m and has managed large property transfer transactions including sale negotiations with State and local governments and the private sector. Vicki has extensive experience in stakeholder and community engagement particularly in relation to emotive issues and hostile audiences. Vicki has experience in setting the strategic direction for complex environmental management programs and has successfully led multidisciplinary teams from around the world to deliver these unique and complex programs. Vicki also has expertise in designing and executing multiple procurement activities with various contracting mechanisms.

Brendan Bilston, Managing Director Conscia Pty Ltd.
Brendan Bilston is a graduate of the Australian Defence Force Academy (1995) and a distinguished graduate the Royal Military College, Duntroon Australia (1996). Brendan holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Engineering (Civil) and a Masters in Engineering Science (Project Management) from the University of New South Wales. Brendan spent 11 years in the Australian Army serving in the Royal Australian Engineers corps. After leaving the military he spent time delivering major projects at Melbourne Airport, United Group and SKM. In 2006 Brendan went into business with Michael Snare as Joint Managing Director of Point Project Management which was sold to the RPS Group in 2015. At RPS, Brendan was appointed as the Executive Director of Strategic Development for the RPS Group Australia Asia Pacific. His focus was on the growth and expansion of the RPS Group in Asia and the South Pacific and Brendan was on the Regional Board of RPS.

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