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How To Choose the Right Environmental Consultant for an Aerospace Remediation Site 

Selecting an environmental consultant can be daunting, regardless of your industry.  Environmental Managers want a consultant who understands how to mitigate risk and reduce long-term liabilities.  The best environmental consultants can liaison with oversight agencies to push projects to completion.  They maintain clear and frequent communication to avoid significant change orders and unexpected costs.  In short, your environmental consultant should serve as an extension of your staff to complete projects on schedule and on budget to meet your business goals. 

These qualifications are no different for aerospace remediation sites.  But there’s more, and the field of environmental consultants is vast.  How do you narrow down the list of qualified consultants and choose the right partner for you? 

This blog offers a general framework for vetting and selecting an environmental consultant for the aerospace industry.  

What’s Unique About Environmental Needs for Aerospace? 
There are some unique challenges for aerospace companies when it comes to environmental investigation and remediation.  

Aerospace sites are common on the RCRA (Resource Conservation and Recovery Act) Superfund National Priorities List.  They often involve complex soil and groundwater contamination conditions with volatile organic compounds (VOCs), chlorinated solvents, perchlorate, petroleum hydrocarbons, and emerging contaminants like PFAS (Polyfluoroalkyl Substances).  Managing long term liability for these sites is a primary concern.  In the case of property divesture, expedited site characterization and remediation is a common project driver. 

Aerospace companies fall under a wide range of regulatory oversight for environmental, health, and safety issues.  Maintaining compliance with agency orders and permits requires on-going monitoring and extensive report writing.  This information and data are very technical in nature yet must be interpreted and conveyed to a wide range of non-technical stakeholders.  

Aerospace component testing grounds tend to consist of hundreds to thousands of acres.  Each location has unique biological hazards and physical obstacles.  Some of these seem obvious while others require experience to identify and properly address.  Examples include mudslides, sinkholes, rough terrain, roads that are difficult to navigate, or even wildlife such as coyotes, mountain lions, bobcats, poisonous snakes, and spiders.  Addressing these hazards in site specific health & safety plans and adhering to the protocol if any of these types of hazards are encountered is critical to minimize injuries and environmental impacts while also keeping the project on schedule. 

What Does the Right Environmental Consultant Look Like? 
In a recent survey, our environmental investigation and remediation clients described what they look for when selecting a consultant.  Here’s what they said. 

  • “I manage environmental liabilities and due diligence for sites around the globe.  I rely on a small group of technical consultants I can trust to protect the Company’s long-term risk.” 
  • “I rely on experienced consultants to represent the Company’s best interest with regulatory agencies.  With so many projects in motion, I need a turnkey consultant who responds quickly and is flexible.”   
  • “Quality is the most important attribute for my consultants followed by technical expertise, and I’m willing to pay a premium for it.  I spend a lot of time supporting my team and expect consultants to contribute to our success.” 

So Many Options – Only A Few Good Choices   
There will always be a great amount of interest in the consulting world when the word gets out that a large-scale government funded site will be requesting quotes for any number of tasks or projects.  So how do you home in on the most qualified consultants?  A prequalification process that aligns your business goals with the requisite contractor qualifications is a solid starting point.  For example, if risk mitigation and cost control are your primary business goals, experience and safety should be your top pre-qualification criteria for your bidders. 

Generally, some of the first questions asked revolve around the safety violations records, “lost time” accrual over the past several years (which indicates the severity of each incident), and if the written safety violations that they might have received from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are reoccurring incidents.  The Establish Search on OSHA’s website allows users to search for the results of safety inspections by simply entering a consultants’ company name and address.  This is a key factor in deciding if you can mitigate the risks while having a certain consultant working on your site.  If you notice repeat violations committed by any of the consultants you are considering, scratch them off your list.   

Once the safety hurdle is cleared, move on to experience.  Identify those consultants who have relevant experience to your situation- aerospace clients, Superfund sites, technical knowledge of your contaminants of concern, and established relationships with the oversight Agencies you deal with.  Now you should have a short list of potential partners able to support your needs.  The next step is the formal bid process.  

The Winning Proposal 
There are five key steps of the bidding process, and they all require a certain level of effort to see them through properly.  The amount of time you invest in the process can determine the quality of your outcome.   

  1. Bid Solicitation- Release a request for proposal inviting environmental consultants to submit a proposal for your project.  This can be done in conjunction with or after the pre-qualification process discussed above.  The solicitation should clearly state your scope of work, project goals, deadlines, instructions for submittal, and award criteria.  There is no shortage of how-to guides and templates available on the web for writing an RFP (Request for Proposal).   
  2. Bid Submission- Only consider proposals that have been submitted prior to your deadline, have fulfilled all requirements stated in the RFP, and include a detailed project approach and cost structure.  Specify whether you want proposals submitted in digital, print, or both formats. 
  3. Bid Selection- Now it’s time to choose from your qualified bidders.  This is where your experience and expertise need to be laser focused and where the final decisions are made pertaining to which consultant has been chosen to perform the work.  It’s common for large companies to maintain a pool of qualified bidders and assign specific tasks or small projects individually depending on the consultant or contractor’s strengths.  Other companies choose to partner with just one consultant to manage all projects in one location or a portfolio of sites.  Either way, the selection process should consider the merits of the technical project approach, experience, reference checks, cost, and any value-added recommendations included in the proposal.  It is also helpful to engage multiple stakeholders in the evaluation process including representatives from procurement, senior management, and your team of direct reports. 
  4. Contract Formation- There are a few options to consider when you are ready to move forward with your consultant.  A master service agreement (MSA) is a convenient way to create a contract framework that allows for flexibility to assign current and future activities.  The MSA establishes general terms and conditions for the business partnership.  Alternatively, you may choose to execute individual contracts for each phase of a large project. 
  5. Project Delivery- Once the work is underway, set a schedule for project updates and communication with your consultant.  This is the best way to proactively address potential obstacles or issues that inevitably arise on major environmental projects.  For large projects, a quarterly business review is an excellent opportunity to ensure both parties are in sync regarding expectations, performance, budget, and schedule. 

In Closing
Whether your need is on-going environmental compliance or Superfund closure, you want a consultant who works as hard as you.  Someone who goes beyond just completing a task and really advises on long-term strategy and outcome.  A well-designed and executed bidding process is key to finding that ideal partner in the vast field of environmental consultants.   

This case study of an aerospace manufacturing facility is typical of complexity of environmental contamination and the remediations systems required to manage them.  The soil and groundwater at the site were impacted with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) including trichloroethylene, tetrachloroethylene, and methylene chloride, and the semi-volatile organic compound (SVOC) 1,4-dioxane.  The existing remediation system integrated multiple remediation subsystems.  The facility owners retained Hargis to evaluate and optimize the system.  In just one year the system achieved 1500% improvement in VOC and SVOC mass removal. 

If you would like to discuss your environmental challenges with an experienced environmental consulting firm, contact HargisHargis is a specialty hydrogeology and environmental engineering firm with deep technical expertise serving the aerospace industry for more than 40 years.   Our team of environmental professionals provide turnkey program support- from science to compliance.  



headshot of S Cunningham

Scott Cunningham  
Remediation O&M (Operation & Maintenance) Manager 
Hargis + Associates, Inc. 

Mr. Cunningham has over 30 years of experience designing, installing, operating, and maintaining groundwater remediation treatment systems consisting of various forms of treatment.  He has extensive experience operating air sparge and vent extraction systems, mobile injection systems as well as many other forms of subsurface remediation treatment systems designed to improve environmentally impacted sites. Mr. Cunningham has successfully managed complex environmental remediation sites across the country for nearly 20 years.