Filed Under:Claims, Catastrophe & Restoration

A Volatile Climate

Beyond Traditional Environmental Forensic Claims

The tiny pinhole in the pipe elbow probably took more than 20 years to form and cause a leak, a day or two to be discovered, and less than an hour to be repaired. This recent claim involving the corrosion of a pipe elbow on a home heating oil tank resulted in the minor release of a few gallons of heating oil into the surrounding surface soil. The insured acted appropriately, and the release was quickly investigated and repaired. Based on the size of the tank and the volume of the release, state regulations did not apply; however, local regulators quickly became concerned about the potential impact to shallow groundwater in the area.

Although the shallow aquifer was not considered a source of drinking water, it was used extensively for irrigation purposes. Furthermore, the property owner soon noticed petroleum-like odors inside the home and office, necessitating relocation for a couple of days. A few weeks after the repair of the leak, the situation was completely resolved with the excavation and removal of impacted soil from beneath a patio and a portion of the building adjoining the point of release. Fortunately, specialists were able to not only discover but also remedy the release quickly. Moreover, the volume of the spill was not sufficient to impact groundwater, which could have easily transported contaminants and associated vapors well beyond the boundaries of the insured’s property.

Perhaps the most effective application of both traditional and multidisciplinary support resources working together is as a follow-up to emergency response. After an emergency is abated and emotions are calm, a rational and cohesive approach to addressing both the cause of the emergency and the most cost-effective, practical course of action for both the insurer and the insured may be developed. For example, the immediate goal of the fire fighter’s response to a small kitchen fire is to save lives, extinguish the fire, and ensure that it stays out. Incidental water infiltration into other adjacent areas of the building is a collateral issue that will result in fungal growth within 24 to 48 hours, spurring its own set of concerns.

Building materials containing asbestos along with volatile and semi-volatile organics and particulates associated with incomplete combustion may also remain, posing a real or perceived threat to occupants during the cleanup and restoration phase. While this may appear to be a fire loss requiring origin and cause investigation, the insurer would clearly be best served by having access to a multidisciplinary team of experienced engineering and environmental consultants working on its behalf to fully define, understand, and address risks in an appropriate and defensible manner.

Time-Saving Technologies

It should be noted that the use of time-saving technologies, such as ground-penetrating radar, infrared thermography, high-resolution aerial photography, and wireless access to remote databases and other information can provide answers quickly, especially when used in conjunction with short form reports and Web-based report delivery methods. For example, water intrusion evaluations can be expedited with the assistance of an infrared camera. A trained operator can therefore quickly (and relatively easily) identify areas of moisture, a determination that would have traditionally required detailed and time-consuming moisture mapping techniques and even destructive testing.

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