A southern suburb of Adelaide in South Australia is undergoing a detailed site investigation through intrusive works where solvent vapours are a risk in air, soil, and groundwater.

Contamination with trichloroethylene (TCE) in the area resulting from the area’s long association with the automotive industry has been known however houses were never thought to be at risk. More than 100 investigative boreholes up to 20 metres deep are being drilled over eight weeks to test soil vapour and groundwater for the industrial solvent.

This article highlights the importance of site characterisation and also that the conceptual site model has to be dynamic and evolve with the data as it becomes available. The key challenges facing the investigation team include public and political perception and pressure in addition to the fact that TCE is a dense non aqueous phase liquid (DNAPL) and typically is very difficult to target in its free phase state.

Careful planning and open communications will be required to ensure the risk to human health and the environment is understood and assessed.