One of the issues that arises when dealing with an environmental investigation on your property, in addition to the obvious concern regarding the potential contamination itself, is the way that contamination can affect your, or your company’s, public image. The reflexive reaction may be to hide the issue as much as possible, but doing so can have negative ramifications in the long run. The best strategy typically includes creating a communications plan that explains the situation and allows you to stay in front of the issue.
If your site does have contamination, you will likely be required to monitor neighboring sites, as well. In this case, a communications plan would come in extremely handy. Handouts could be presented to the owners and tenants of these sites in order to inform and outline the sampling process and provide any health risk details, request site access to off-site buildings, and establish timelines for action if contamination exists. If VI sampling or monitoring will need to occur at homes and buildings located over a larger area, such as an entire neighborhood, a more formal communications plan is advised that would likely also include a group information meeting.
In his article “Dealing with the Perception of Risk: The Value of Having an Effective Communications Plan” (as seen in the October 2013 issue of Cleaner & Launderer), Stephen Henshaw, President and CEO of EnviroForensics, explains the importance of an effective communications plan for businesses dealing with environmental investigations. He lists several elements that such a plan should have, including:
- Establishing the protocol of informing off-site property owners and occupants of the sampling results,
- Approaching off-site property owners and occupants to inform them of the process being undertaken and request access to their property or building to conduct additional sampling,
- Sharing the results with the parties,
- Explaining any existing exposure concerns,
- Proposing any necessary exposure mitigation or elimination measures that would be undertaken to protect the affected people.
Ultimately, a strong communications plan in these circumstances will allow you and your company to explain the situation to those who will be affected and will provide opportunities for discussions between the parties at risk and a technical expert and/or regulator. It is best to be forthright with and transparent to the community, avoiding any perception by individuals or the media as being calculating or deceptive. This may not always be the most comfortable or easiest approach, but it will pay off in the end.