Alberta Background Soil Quality System Project: Workshop Summary

Natalie Shelby-James
Sarah Thacker
Chris Powter
Paul Fuellbrandt
Tomislav Hengl
Leandro Parente
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As part of the environmental regulatory framework to minimize risk to receptors, concentrations of chemicals in soil or water exceeding regulatory guidelines that can be attributed to industrial activities at a site require remediation and/or monitoring. This process is complicated by the fact that various chemical parameters are naturally elevated in Alberta, with concentrations that exceed the generic Alberta Tier 1 Soil and Groundwater Remediation Guidelines. Where this occurs, environmental professionals must prove to the satisfaction of the applicable regulatory body that elevated concentrations are natural and not the result of industrial activities.
The challenge of proving that elevated concentrations are of natural origin has been identified by industry and practitioners as a root cause of cost uncertainty, multi-year timelines, challenges in reaching regulatory closure, and in some cases, unnecessary and unsustainable monitoring, and remediation efforts.
The objective of this project is to work collaboratively with soil data users to develop the Alberta Background Soil Quality System (ABSQS) to be used as a tool to assist industry and government in environmental management. As the first step in the project, 64 people from government, industry, consulting, analytical labs and academia participated in a workshop designed to:
• Increase awareness and understanding of the Alberta Background Soil Quality System Project,
• Collect and incorporate feedback from workshop attendees related to barriers to use / technical acceptance and system performance expectations, and,
• Promote collaboration opportunities
There was considerable interest in the potential for the ABSQS to support regulatory compliance and participants did not identify any “show stoppers”. Several questions were raised, and there was a desire for more information, much of which can be addressed by providing progress updates and specifically by providing more detail on the contents of the database, the geographic area of the pilot, examples of the background levels in polygons, and maps of the polygons in the pilot area.
Participants could help ensure project success by:
• Providing suggestions for, and/or access to, soil chemistry datasets (preferably georeferenced),
• Providing suggestions for, and/or access to, covariate data layers, and,
• Providing information on which soil chemical parameters are most often found to have naturally elevated background levels in various regions of the province