What is Soil Vapor Intrusion?

Excerpt from the EPA:

Vapor intrusion generally occurs when there is a migration of volatile chemicals from contaminated groundwater or soil into an overlying building. Volatile chemicals can emit vapors that may migrate through subsurface soils and into indoor air spaces of overlying buildings in ways similar to that of radon gas seeping into homes.

In extreme cases, the vapors may accumulate in dwellings or occupied buildings to levels that may pose near-term safety hazards (e.g., explosion), acute health effects, or aesthetic problems (e.g., odors). In buildings with low concentrations of volatile chemicals, the main concern is whether the chemicals may pose an unacceptable risk of chronic health effects due to long-term exposure to these low levels.

The simple conceptual model of the vapor intrusion pathway that is presented in Figure 1 below illustrates a source of contamination in soil and groundwater and the upward movement of VOCs from this source toward and into buildings.
(Source: The 2008 Brownfields Technology Primer: Vapor Intrusion Considerations for Redevelopment, EPA 542-R-08-001.)

Civilian Exposure: Migration of Soil Vapors to Indoor Air

Click to learn more about Soil Vapor Intrusion from the EPA.


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A 20-year veteran of media, marketing, non-profits and entrepreneurship, Gavin P. Smith leads Civilian Exposure, a non-profit assisting civilians and veterans exposed to U.S. military contamination; the Keta Foundation, a collaborative foundation dedicated to mitigating modern slavery through economic improvement projects in Africa; and Gavin Consulting, a network of virtual experts serving global clients; He is also a former member of the CDC/ATSDR Camp Lejeune Community Assistance Panel. Mr. Smith holds a Master of Global Management with distinction (Beta Gamma Sigma) from Thunderbird School of Global Management, an MBA from The College of William & Mary Mason School of Business and a BA in History from Wake Forest University.

3 thoughts on “What is Soil Vapor Intrusion?

  • June 10, 2015 at 12:19 pm

    Will this also let us know how long Agent Orange lives in the soil?

    • June 15, 2015 at 3:55 pm

      Scott: Thank you for your question and comment. I do know that the ATSDR plans to engage in a more detailed Soil Vapor Intrusion Study that will launch soon. This will help give a clearer picture of the presence of carcinogens in the soil, soil vapor plumes and more (both in the past and potentially still in the present). In our upcoming CAP phone meeting, I’ll see if I can find out if this study would also yield data or results on the presence of Agent Orange in the soil, as well as longevity. Here’s the link to more information on our site about the proposed ATSDR soil vapor study: http://civilianexposure.org/cdc-atsdr-soil-vapor-intrusion-study-proposed-work-plan-draft/. Will keep you posted! Feel free to email me also with additional questions at gavin.smith-AT-civilianexposure-DOT-org.

  • May 2, 2016 at 8:03 pm

    In the instance of an old “capped” well….brine coming up w/apparent oil. My issue is that in a 200′ well, they went down 60′ and cemented it in….who is to say that the leak didn’t or won’t get into the sublayers of soil. We have a high water table here and property slants towards the Rouge River. Waiting for results of soil tests….but, my question is what about what we Can’t see or smell?? That well was capped in 1941 and we can’t even find out what chemicals they use Today…let alone in 1939-1941. The builder was even going to sell that lot and put a home on top of it before this incident! Stop the Drilling in Southfield, Michigan


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