Environmental Site Characterization

On most any journey, the first step is to determine your starting point. This is why environmental site characterization is so crucial when you begin working with an impacted site. Environmental site characterization is a set of site-specific activities that are designed to help you identify and understand a site’s contaminants and their sources, forming a baseline assessment of all existing or potential risks posed to human health and the environment. This investigation will help you better understand your site’s underground composition, identify contaminants, respond to potentially harmful elements, and comply with governmental regulations. Below, we discuss the purpose, results, costs, and technology involved in environmental site characterization.


environmental site characterization

Environmental Site Characterization


The determination that site characterization is needed typically occurs after a due diligence investigation (such as a Phase II) identifies that contaminant impact above a state or federal target level is present on a property. The purpose of environmental site characterization is to form a comprehensive evaluation of the site’s geology, hydrogeology, ecology, and human uses to determine which potential risk pathways are present. In addition, you must horizontally and vertically delineate impacts to the soil and groundwater (typically by collecting soil borings and installing groundwater monitoring wells), and utilize the soil and groundwater data to evaluate the risks presented to all applicable pathways. Depending on the site, collection of surface water, drinking water, soil vapor, and/or stream sediment samples may also be warranted.

Typically, environmental site characterization is regulated by the state, not the EPA. For example, the MRBCA Guidance sets the standards in Missouri. Applicable “clean-up” target levels are state-specific and can vary depending on exposure pathways present at the site (residential vs. commercial, etc). 


When applicable, using subsurface imaging and modeling technologies can save a great amount of money in your quest to characterize your site. Plus, you will be able to thoroughly assess the site and develop strong strategies without all of the guesswork typically required. To better understand the benefits of these innovative tools, please check out our successful case studies.


In the end, you’re vying to achieve a No Further Action (NFA) status. The length of time required to achieve this position varies dramatically from site to site, because it depends on the complexity of the site, extent of contamination, and whether or not remediation will be required to eliminate risks to human or ecological receptors.

environmental site characterization


The costs of site characterization can be extensive. To help cover the expenses, we recommend that you work with a consultant who can help you determine whether your site is eligible for participation in your state’s insurance or trust fund. In addition, there are tax incentives available in some states for voluntary cleanup programs.


Are you ready to get the ball rolling on your site’s characterization? Contact Environmental Works, a full-service environmental consulting and contracting firm. We can assist you from start to finish by helping you define your site’s needs, objectives, and constraints. To ensure success, we utilize a wide array of techniques and equipment. Our site characterization services include all of the following:

  • Strategic planning and agency negotiation
  • Development of data quality objectives and work plan preparation
  • Remote sensing and interpretation
  • Soil gas surveys (passive and active sampling techniques)
  • Hydrogeologic investigations
  • Nature and extent determinations in soil, sediment, surface water, and groundwater
  • Monitoring well installation and sampling (passive and active techniques)
  • Aquifer testing and analysis
  • Groundwater modeling
  • Solid 3-D modeling
  • Vapor intrusion evaluation and modeling
  • Real-time analysis of data
  • Data validation
  • Statistical analysis
  • Data management and reporting
  • MIP Techniques

To learn more about our services, please give us a call at 417-890-9500 or contact us online.