Southeastern Section–56th Annual Meeting (29–30 March 2007)

Paper No. 7
Presentation Time: 10:20 AM


CORBO, Salvatore, GeoInvestigations, LLC, Raleigh, NC 27607,

Environmental policy that protects public health, aquifers, rivers and streams, wetlands, and coastal and marine habitats with enforceable regulations is complicated by an off-balance equation involving political agendas, bureaucracy, corporate and developer economics, and public unawareness. This paper suggests that a focused geological investigation is a vital tool that results in the enforcement of regulations. Success of such a project requires forensic quality and depends on the education of concerned citizens and availability of results to local officials.

A forensic-quality geological investigation requires high-level scientific, legal, quality assurance/quality control (QA/QC), and sound project management. Geological methodology must test multiple hypotheses and may use trace indicators and several lines of evidence to substantiate and isolate sources of environmental impact. Accurate research, scientific insight, a legal perspective, and rigid application of the scientific method are imperative. Inclusion of QA/QC protocol concerning project design, documentation of methods and decisions, data control, and report preparation is necessary to build a defendable case.

An example investigation involved a hog-waste problem in North Carolina where agency-conducted geological studies were generally compromised by political pressure. In the Jones Residence Incident a spray-field operation allegedly impacted a shallow aquifer, but was complicated by other potential nitrate sources. Conclusive evidence of the swine source was based on tests for ionic ratios of solutes that discerned hog waste from human, fertilizer, and other nitrate sources. Sample ID's were disguised to prevent tampering. Multidisciplinary geological and aquifer description, fate-transport justification, and public testimony backed the evidence. Community leaders who distrusted the system due to previous agency failures were educated on the investigative process, kept informed of results, and provided with access to the final report. As a result, the public drove project success by pressuring the agencies to hold the polluter accountable. Such successes call attention to the geologists' role in public welfare and reinforce the issue of policy in the protection of the environment.