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A surprisingly large portion of our practice consists of civil suits against environmental consultants for negligence relating to contaminated sites. We are currently a week into discoveries of such a case. A major consulting firm won a large remediation contract by representing that they had unique and proven expertise in insitu chemical oxidation, and promised to get their clients’ site to MOE standards within six months. A great deal of money, several spills and nearly 4 years later, another consultant is now trying to remediate the same site.


Key issues in the case include:

  1. Should the consultant have attempted to remediate TCA in situ with potassium permanganate, given the substantial technical literature stating that TCA is recalcitrant to permanganate?

Should in situ remediation have been attempted with injection trenches hydraulically connected to utilities, including the storm sewer bedding, especially with a creek nearby?

What constitutes a valid bench test/pilot test?

Did the consultant actually have the experience that it claimed?
Despite the extent of the consultant’s negligence, the litigation could have been avoided if the consultant had been honest with its client about its errors. Instead, the consultant denied any fault, and forced its client to pay the resulting costs. We have seen this pattern many times, and it puzzles us that Professional Engineers Ontario is doing nothing about it. Other professions, such as the doctors, have recognized the power of an honest acknowledgment of mistakes, and are hard to spread this recognition among their members. LawPro, the professional negligence insurer for lawyers, has learned the same lesson. Why, then, do we so rarely see this among environmental engineers?

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