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Do you need a "Modeling Checkup?"


Last week I went to my doctor for a physical. I had one in my early 40s but now that my age rounds to 100 I figured it was time for me to start a routine of annual physicals. I wanted to be sure I understood where things stand in terms of my physical health, to be able to track certain health metrics over time, and to do my best to head off any potential issues before they became actual problems.


As I drove back to my home office after the appointment, I started to think of what I needed to pick back up when I returned to work. One of the projects I was working on involved what I like to call “what if” modeling. This client has some equipment/activities that hasn’t been required to be included in modeling in the past, and they wanted to be proactive and do some modeling now to see what would happen in the future if they ever had to include those emissions.


The first thing I did was to model only the “new” equipment/activities to see if their predicted concentrations were large enough to warrant any attention. They were, so then it was time to get a bit more refined with the analysis—to take the most recent modeling and add in these equipment/activities to see where the cumulative concentrations fall in relationship to the applicable standards.


And that’s where it got sticky. My client was able to provide me with the most recent modeling files (that modeling hadn’t been done by me), but it was really challenging to piece together what had been done in the past. There wasn’t really any documentation to go off of, but rather just a pile of modeling files. With a lot of legwork I was able to piece together the story of the most recent modeling—turns out there had been some internal modeling done that had showed exceedances of standards, but for a variety of reasons (not really the point of this story, so I won’t go into why) that didn’t end up being submitted to the regulatory agency. But going forward there’s a chance that this modeling with the exceedances would be the basis of any future analyses, so that opened up a new issue—forget the possible inclusion of the “new” equipment/activities, the “base” scenario could lead to an exceedance the next time modeling is required. Once I talked with my client about what I was seeing it jogged their memory enough where they remembered what was going on, but it clearly caught them by surprise at first.


Since I was working on this right after talking with my doctor about the results of my physical it got me thinking—I bet many of the folk who hire me (environmental managers, engineers, etc.) could benefit from a “modeling checkup.” Just like I did with my physical, it can be helpful to take a little bit of time to make sure you understand where you currently sit from a modeling perspective. Some questions that it’s important to have the answer to include the following:

  • When was your last modeling analysis done? Was it submitted to a regulatory agency, or was it an internal exercise?

  • Where were the hot spots in the modeling?

  • Which sources were the biggest players in terms of your ambient impacts?

  • Have there been any changes since your most recent modeling that would affect the results of future modeling? This could be something at your plant, or perhaps a new industry has been built nearby that would affect contributions from your offsite inventory.

  • How much buffer did you have with respect to the Annual PM2.5 NAAQS in your last modeling? With a likely lowering of that standard in the near future, could your modeling hands be tied when you try to permit the upcoming plant expansion you hear management talking about?

his sort of an exercise becomes even more important if there’s been some change in personnel at your plant since the last round of modeling. If you’re new at your facility and there’s a modeling report sitting on the shelf in your office but you haven’t familiarized yourself with it, you could be in a vulnerable position—there could be a bad story in that there that could bite you in the future.


If you do decide it’s time for a “modeling checkup,” I strongly encourage you to do what I did for my physical; just like I didn’t try to do my own bloodwork but went to my doctor instead, the best advice I can give you is to bring in a modeler to do your “modeling checkup.” Unless you’ve got a very strong modeling background, an experienced modeler is likely going to be able to interpret past modeling results more effectively than you, but perhaps more importantly there’s a good chance they’ll be able to see potential modeling issues lurking in your future that you would likely miss. That current triglyceride number may not be a problem now, but if you keep eating those mozzarella sticks…


Fortunately for me, the results of my physical were good. I didn’t have any red flags, and my doctor said the best thing I can do is to eat fewer bad carbs (but I really like pizza and fries!). While going into the physical I was fairly confident that I was in pretty good shape for somebody who has a desk job, it’s still re-assuring to know for certain that is the case. It’s also comforting to know for certain there are no potential big health issues hiding around a corner in my future—as long as I stay on top of my diet and exercise I should be fine.


The question is, do you have the same confidence in where you stand with your modeling? If not, I suggest making an appointment for a “modeling checkup”!

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