Environmental & Ecological Trends to Watch For in 2022

It’s time to spend some time looking at pertinent environmental and ecological trends. Here are the things we at Essel Environment think you should be most worried about. Some of them are perennial, but others are new. The overarching concern of climate change continues, of course, to be something that we all have to worry about.

We have compiled a list of four major ecological and environmental trends we think you should be paying attention to, especially if you are working in the development and construction sectors.

Wildfires and Wildfire Recovery

Throughout 2021, the headlines were repeatedly dominated by major, and in some cases record-breaking, wildfires. Over 7.3 million acres burned in the western U.S. This was less than in 2020, but some trends significantly worry firefighters.

The biggest is that the fire season has become longer and threatens to become year-round. California experienced fire warnings over Thanksgiving and a major fire in Colorado burned well into the winter. Worse, the fire-affected Colorado suburban areas between Denver and Boulder indicate that fire risk is no longer limited to more remote development.

Wildfire mitigation is going to become vital for new and existing builds throughout the west (and also in southern Europe and Australia, where major fires have also increased). Changes to overall wildlands management are likely to be needed to reduce fire risk, but for developers, the key factors include ensuring that new and existing buildings have proper fire breaks, that roofing materials are chosen to mitigate the risk of fire, and that access for firefighters becomes and remains paramount.

Post-fire recovery is likely to be a growth industry as fire season affects more people both in time and space.

PFAS and Regulations

There is a growing concern about the health risks posed by per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). These chemicals, including perfluorooctane sulfonic acid and perfluorooctanoic acid, are found in all kinds of products. Typically, they are used to make a substance resistant to heat, oil, grease, water, and stains. Thus they are found in clothing, furniture, food packaging, non-stick cooking surfaces, and electrical insulation.

Unfortunately, these chemicals do not break down in the environment and tend to build up in fish and wildlife. PFAS contaminated water and food are then consumed by people and pets. There’s some indication exposure can lead to negative health effects on humans and animals, but a lot of research still has to be done. Studies do, however, show that PFAS can impact fertility, cause developmental delays in children, increase the risk of cancer, suppress the immune system, and increase the risk of obesity.

PFAS are not yet regulated at the federal level, but many states have introduced drinking water standards, either enforceable or notifiable. The EPA is studying the matter and federal regulation is likely, although perhaps not this year.

Builders should be careful about how they use PFAS in electrical insulation or other uses and seek alternatives when possible, due to the very high likelihood of further regulation.

Phase 1 Revision of the ESA Standard – ASTM-E1527-21

Of particular interest to builders and contractors is the recently released revision of ASTM-E1527-21. In plain English, the new standard:

  1. Clarifies the definition of Recognized Environmental Condition to improve consistency. It now includes examples to help developers determine when a site has a REC and to assist environmental professionals.
  2. Encourages more detailed research regarding the use of adjoining properties, possibly increasing the amount of work needed on brownfield sites. Good environmental engineering firms were already doing this extra research, and developers should make sure that the company they hire is indeed doing research including aerial photographs, fire insurance maps, etc.
  3. Retail is now grouped with industrial and manufacturing, apparently because of concerns about dry cleaning operations.
  4. Acknowledges that state standards may be beyond the scope, particularly concerning PFAS.
  5. Adds more detail about the 180-day “shelf life” of the report, and indicates that each component must be finished within 180 days, not just the date of the final report.

All of this may make things more complicated for both developers and contractors, not to mention environmental specialists hired to fill out these reports. Make sure to hire experts who are up to date on the standard, even if it is not yet in place. This is the first major revision since 2013 and may fly under the radar of some developers.

Drought Conditions on the West Coast

The good news is that California is out of the worst drought category for the first time in more than a year. The bad news is that the state is still in a moderate to severe drought. In October, more than 52% of the west was in extreme or exceptional drought.

While things are looking more hopeful, especially with the significant replenishment of the Sierra snowpack, concerns about the west’s water resources remain. In fact, many experts believe some form of drought will persist at least through 2022. This impacts food production across the country. It is also a contributing factor to record wildfires.

Water management is going to become more and more key moving forward. The extreme drought conditions can be feasibly associated with climate change and it is hard to predict when…or whether…the drought will resolve.

Developers in the west should consider water management in all new builds and renovation projects. One factor to consider is low irrigation and drought-resistant landscaping. Planting native plants and ones which don’t require watering will increase the value of a project and help support the environment.

These are probably the four biggest concerns facing developers through 2022. If you are impacted by them, Essel Environmental Consulting can help. We can help you deal with new regulations including changes to the ESA protocol and rules about PFAS. We can also help with wildfire and drought mitigation to keep your projects moving forward.

Overall, environmental concerns are only going to become more important. Mitigating the impact of climate change will continue to be a necessary priority for all builders and developers. Talk to us about how we can help.