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Second Opinions Can Offer a Distinctly-Different Path Forward

Written by Alan Hahn, Dragun Corporation

A story in the Washington Post from a year ago discussed why second medical opinions can be very important.  In one case, a young man, at his mother’s behest, got a second opinion and received life-saving surgery for cancer that he would not have otherwise received.  The other case they highlighted was a woman who did not get a second opinion and had a double mastectomy and hysterectomy.  Neither, it turns out, were necessary.

A Mayo Clinic Study found that as many as 88% of those looking for a second opinion left with a new or “refined diagnoses,” and 21% had a “distinctly different” diagnoses.  

Medical second opinions can literally save your life.

While environmental consultants are not in the business of saving lives directly, in our experience, environmental/scientific second opinions have provided some very stark results.

The intent of second opinions, medical, or as is the case in our world, environmental, is not (or should not be) to unjustly criticize.  The intent is to objectively review the data and offer suggestions for a “refined diagnoses” and occasionally offer a “distinctly different” path forward.

At Dragun Corporation, we began 30-plus years ago providing second opinions, or, as we call them, peer reviews.  Below are very brief discussions of some of these second opinions.

Second Opinion of Groundwater Investigation

A site assessment and remediation program that was confounding a company had many complicating factors.  When we were asked to review the project, it was headed down a path of more investigation and remediation.  What we found, and why the subsurface data were not making sense, was an underground storage tank that was “missed” early in the investigation. The problem was compounded as they moved to each subsequent phase of work.  Once this was discovered, the other data began to make sense.  Collection of additional supporting data presented to the regulators was convincing and the site was closed.

Second Opinion of Remediation

An old industrial site with a lot of “environmental history” was getting more complicated (and confusing) with each subsequent set of data.  The calculated groundwater flow at the site did not make sense, but a multi-million dollar remediation was proposed nonetheless.  The major issue uncovered in the peer-review process was improperly-screened wells.  It was a “simple” mistake (and a reminder of why field work is so important), but the potential consequences could have been very expensive.  In this case, a distinctly-different diagnoses led to a far-different (and less costly) solution.

Second Opinion Leads to Supreme Court

Another older industrial site that used a common, but often problematic, chemical, trichloroethylene (TCE), was so contentious that it ended up in a US State Supreme Court.  When the problem was first identified in the groundwater, the client recognized that they had used TCE and “stepped up” to take responsibility.  While operating a groundwater pump-and-treat system to capture and treat the TCE plume, they were approached by the state regulators to investigate a newly-discovered plume.  The state theorized that the plume had “escaped” the treatment system.  In this particular case, the client’s consultant was not willing to “push back” and defend the client’s position; they believed the best course of action was to do as the state directed.

The review of the data suggested that there was no scientific reason to believe the escaped plume theory.  The subsequent technical and legal battles ended in the State Supreme Court.  The unanimous decision of the Supreme Court supported our scientific interpretation, and the state was ordered to pay the client’s technical and legal costs (nearly $4 million).

When should you consider a second “environmental” opinion?  I don’t know if there are any hard and fast rules.  From our perspective, the requests for second opinions have come when someone is considering a new scope of work for additional investigation, considering remediation, or when a project is potentially headed toward litigation.  In each case, there are potentially-significant expenses in the next step.

Often, but not always, legal counsel is involved in this decision including vetting the firm that may be offering the second opinion.  

Recently, we developed a list of issues we have encountered more than once in providing second opinions.  You can download this list of “29 Potentially Costly Soil and Groundwater Investigation Mistakes” on our website.  This list may provide you with some guidance as you review your data.

The findings published by the Mayo Clinic regarding medical second opinions providing both refined diagnoses and distinctly different diagnoses are quite remarkable.  And if our experience is any indication of environmental second opinions, it may be worth your effort to seek out a second opinion before taking significant action.   


About the Author

Alan Hahn works at Dragun Corporation, an environmental services headquartered in Farmington Hills, Michigan. His practical experience in the environmental business and the practical experience in marketing, allows him to develop realistic strategic business plans. His undergraduate and graduate studies are both in the environmental field (University of Michigan – Dearborn and University of Maryland). He also has substantial hands-on experience in the environmental field (both in an analytical laboratory and in collection of samples).

U.S. Government RFP for Remediation Services at Superfund Site: Opportunity for Small Business

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is planning to issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) sometime in September 2018 as a small business set-aside under NAICS code 562910, size standard 750 employees.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New England District intends to issue an RFP for a single-award Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) remediation services task-order contract for Operable Units (OUs) 3, 4, and 6 of the Raymark Superfund Site in Stratford, Connecticut.  Raymark generated waste containing asbestos, lead, copper, PCBs, and a variety of solvents, adhesives, and resins as by-products of its manufacturing operations. U.S. EPA recently approved one Record of Decision that specified the selected remedies for OUs 3 (Upper Ferry Creek), 4 (Raybestos Memorial Ballfield), and 6 (Additional Properties) of the Raymark Superfund Project. The solicitation will be released on FedBizOpps. https://www.fbo.gov/spg/USA/COE/DACA33/W912WJ18R0003/listing.html

This undated photo provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency shows the Raymark property, in Stratford, Connecticut

WSP to acquire Louis Berger for $400 million

WSP Global Inc. will acquire Berger Group Holdings, Inc. (Morristown, N.J.), the parent company of Louis Berger, for $400 million to be financed by an underwritten term loan. Louis Berger is a professional services firm mainly active in the transportation, infrastructure, environmental, and water sectors, as well as in master planning.  Louis Berger has approximately $480 million in annual net revenues and $45 million in normalized EBITDA.  Its 5,000 employees are mostly in the United States, with U.S. operations representing around 70% of 2018 net revenues (excluding disaster response revenues).

The acquisition of Louis Berger will increase WSP’s presence in regions it has targeted for growth, such as continental Europe, and will increase WSP’s exposure to the U.S. federal sector, according to Alexandre L’Heureux, WSP’s president and CEO.

ICF to Acquire DMS Disaster Consultants

ICF (Fairfax, Va.) has agreed to acquire DMS Disaster Consultants (Boca Raton, Fla.), a disaster planning and recovery services firm, which will operate as part of ICF’s disaster management and resilience division. DMS assists public sector clients with pre-disaster services and post-disaster recovery, including the development of comprehensive insurance, risk management, and risk mitigation strategies. ICF will also get DMS’s project management software, disasTRAX. The DMS team consists of about 50 employees, including engineers, architects, adjusters, risk managers, forensic accountants and project managers.

Pario Engineering & Environmental Sciences LP Opens Moncton Office

Pario Engineering & Environmental Sciences LP, a provider of specialized engineering and environmental services to the insurance and risk management industries, recently announced it has opened a new branch in Moncton, New Brunswick. It also announced that Steven Vidito has joined Pario as its Senior Geoscientist for Environmental Services, and will work out of the new Moncton location.

Aerial View of Downtown Moncton, New Brunswick

Mr. Vidito has over 25 years of experience and demonstrated success in the planning and execution of complex hydrogeological and environmental programs throughout Canada. He has extensive experience in contaminant hydrogeology, contaminated site assessment, soil and groundwater remediation, and regulatory compliance. He has coordinated and managed numerous environmental projects for a broad range of sites including residential, commercial, and industrial properties as well as federal facilities across Canada.

Additionally, Mr. Vidito has experience in providing senior technical oversight and peer review for reports and regulatory applications. His familiarity with the insurance industry will be a major asset in providing exceptional service to our clients. In the field, Mr. Vidito’s experience extends to on-site investigation, remediation, treat in-situ, treat ex-situ, containment procedures, risk evaluation, cost benefit analysis, and the execution of complex remedial projects.

Pario identified New Brunswick as a key location for those clients seeking environmental and forensic expertise. This location, along with the company’s current Halifax location, will serve Atlantic Canada, and many of Pario’s insurance and claims clients will now have local support to manage and control the costs of spill response along with mitigation of environmental liabilities.

Mr. Vidito will report to Brian Merrick, Director of Atlantic Canada. Mr. Merrick has been with Pario since 2007. He has over 22 years of experience, including senior technical and project management positions throughout Atlantic Canada.

“We are extremely pleased to be operating out of New Brunswick and to welcome Steven Vidito to the Pario team,” stated Martin Grech, Senior Vice President of National Operations. “As with all of our other locations, this new branch offers top talent with a continual emphasis on customer service. Mr. Vidito’s experience will be an ideal addition to our roster and we look forward to providing additional services to complement these strengths.”

SNC-Lavelin opens new London UK office to drive collaboration

Canadian construction, engineering and environmental services group SNC-Lavalin is to establish a new hub in London, UK.

Having completed the acquisition of British-based firm Atkins last summer (EA 04-Jul-17), the Montreal-headquartered firm is investing in the new office located in London’s Victoria, to support plans for growth in the UK market and continue its strong presence for the London clientbase, whilst also facilitating bringing together over 1,000 people from across SNC-Lavalin and its Atkins, Faithful+Gould and Acuity businesses into “a working space fit for the 21st Century”, it said.

Atkins president Nick Roberts said: “We’re focused on building a strong, unified and growing business in the UK. The decision to invest in a new UK hub in London is a positive statement from SNC-Lavalin about the significance of the UK to the company’s future aspirations. It provides a great foundation to further combine the market-leading strengths from our two organisations, and ensures we can continue to provide our clients with a high-quality customer experience and world-class project delivery.”

Philip Hoare, chief executive of SNC-Lavalin’s Atkins business in the UK & Europe, added: “We are striving to play our part in improving productivity and growth in the UK, as well as within our wider industry sector. A core component of this will be the digital transformation agenda, where more than ever innovation, collaboration and disruption will be key to success. Nova North [the new office] offers us a modern, efficient and flexible working environment in central London from where we can drive these efforts.”