Confessions of a Former Environmental Consultant

Confessions of a Former Environmental Consultant

Kevin French

by Kevin French

Many friends and colleagues have asked me: “What made you decide to become an environmental remediation contractor?”  It’s a good question.  Until recently, I had exclusively been an environmental consultant and, I like to think, a pretty good one.  That part of my career lasted 24 years.  You might think that is a long time to do essentially the same thing such as Phase I and II ESAs, peer reviews, remediation plans and risk assessments.  However, what kept it fresh all those years, were the constant changes in the sites, sources, contaminants, and issues encountered – and of course the players involved.  Most people, myself included, naturally assumed I was an environmental consulting “lifer”.

As a consultant, there is something to be said about the intellectual problem solving that comes with being, as it were, a forensic environmental detective.  Think of all the information that makes up a Phase I ESA including interviews, site inspections and reviewing historical documents and photographs.  It takes a certain amount of knowledge and experience to sift through reams of data, make sense of it and decide what is important and what is not.  You have to determine what represents a potential source of environmental contamination and what is a “low risk”.  It’s kind of like CSI: Environmental.  If contamination is suspected, you design an intrusive investigation program, the Phase II ESA, to confirm whether or not actual soil and/or groundwater contamination is present at a site.  But then what?  Who are the people that actually clean up the contaminated sites?  That’s where the remediation contractors come in.

A few years ago (2012 to be exact) when I found myself in the process of switching employment I initially focused on only environmental consulting firms.  After all, it was what I knew how to do.  Then a good friend of mine suggested that I meet with Bruce Tunnicliffe at Vertex Environmental and see if there was an opportunity for me in environmental contracting.  Bruce and I met a couple of times over coffee to get to know each other a bit better (I had previously hired Vertex on projects) and brainstormed.  We were both excited about the potential opportunities and synergies of working together.  Bruce is always open to new business opportunities and I represented someone with a lot of contacts in the environmental consulting world – Vertex’s main clients.  I was intrigued by the idea and the challenge of doing something new – remediating contaminated sites as opposed to investigating them.  It was something I had not done before and to me represented a missing link in my experience.

There were many things that interested me about Vertex.  Bruce has a deep knowledge of environmental remediation (to the point where he almost groks it).  He also happens to have the same quirky sense of humour as I do.  To me a workplace where people take their work seriously and still have fun doing it is ideal!  The Project Managers in the office are all professionals, very technically focused and genuinely concerned with doing the best job they can.  Vertex has been around for more than 10 years (a long time in this field) and has a wealth of practical remediation experience – arguably the most in Canada.  As a firm, Vertex is an innovator.  They spend a substantial amount of time conducting research to improve existing and develop new environmental remediation methods and techniques. Do you need a dyed hydrogen peroxide oxidant solution or a stabilized, soluble, slow-release oxygen source for your site?  Vertex can figure that out for you.  If that wasn’t enough, this information is readily shared through the many conferences and seminars that Vertex attends and hosts, including the SMART Remediation Learning Series started by Vertex in 2010.

Needless to say I joined Vertex and have now been here two and a half years.  I have learned a tremendous amount about environmental remediation during that time including about in-situ, ex-situ, chemical oxidation and reduction, aerobic and anaerobic biodegradation and amenable combinations of these approaches.  I have learned how to be a contractor as opposed to a consultant – that took a while!  I have kept in touch with my former colleagues, many of whom are now clients.  I have played with science experiments in Vertex’s laboratory.  Most importantly, I have helped to clean up many sites.  There is still no end of things to do and learn and, apparently, contaminated sites to remediate.  To me these things are all very rewarding.

So, back to that original question: “What made you decide to become an environmental remediation contractor?”  All things considered, it was a combination of factors.  Vertex is a very professional firm with a really good reputation and Bruce is a great guy to work with but, perhaps more than that, I really enjoy the sense of accomplishment that comes with cleaning up contaminated sites – especially the really challenging ones!