Chief Specialist, Contamination, Krister Honkonen @KHonkonen: A Day in the GeoLife Series

Krister Honkonen

Krister Honkonen standing in an old landfill. Photo credit: Krister Honkonen

NAME:  Krister Honkonen

CURRENT TITLE:  Chief Specialist

AREA OF EXPERTISE:  Contaminated soil, sediment, groundwater and hazardous building materials

YEARS OF EXPERIENCE:  I have been working with contaminated sites for almost 20 years, basically since I finished my education.
Currently, I work as a consultant at COWI Sweden.

EDUCATION:  I studied at Gothenburg University, Sweden where I completed a M.Sc. in Quaternary and Marine Geology, finishing up with a Master’s thesis about heavy metal pollution in marine sediments. My aim was to work within marine geology, but life turned out another way. I kind of stumbled into the field of contaminated soil at a stage when it became a new field for many geologists in Sweden. Combining geology and environmental issues was great, but I kind of ended up stuck on land and have not worked a lot with marine geology apart from contaminated sediments, of course.

What’s your job like?

I work with a combination of field work including soil and groundwater sampling and quite a lot of office work with risk assessment and evaluation of sites. In my role as project manager, I write a lot of tender offers and administrate projects, where my colleagues often do the field work. I try to take part of field investigations every now and then to get outdoors a few times a month, mostly working with some of our auger drill rigs.

auger rig

Auger drilling rig. Photo credit: Krister Honkonen

What’s a typical day like?

A typical day at work often consists of writing reports, talking to clients, and discussing current projects with team members and coordinating their field work. On a good day, the sun is shining, it´s warm outside, and I get to go out myself to collect soil and water samples on some old industrial site. A nice part, although not geology, is the investigation of hazardous building materials like asbestos, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and others. That is something I have been working with for the last 4-5 years to expand my area of expertise.

What’s fun?

One of the fun parts is to do the background research of a site. It provides the possibility to dig into old archives and learn about the history of an often neglected place. You have to find out everything about the geology to evaluate how it affects the potential spreading of contaminants both in the soil and in the groundwater. At the same time, you have to make some qualified guessing of where to look for contaminants to be able to place the sampling points right. It feels great when you have managed to get everything right, and the customer is satisfied with the outcome, both technically, environmentally and economically.


Chemicals left at a site. Photo credit: Krister Honkonen

What’s challenging?

Since I do a lot of the assessment of sites based on a limited number of soil samples, it is always a challenge to draw the right conclusions from what you know. Balancing the cost of investigations with the cost of remediation of a contaminated site is important. There are a lot of examples of projects that keep expanding with gigantic costs for the customer. I take pride in trying to get it as close to the truth right from the start. With 20 years of experience in evaluating costs for remediation, I´m getting pretty good at it.


Oil and paint in ground. Photo credit: Krister Honkonen

What’s your advice to students?

Although I did not end up with marine geology, I feel I have always worked with something that interested me a lot. My advice is to listen to your heart and not always go for the money in your professional career. Another good advice is to build your network. Be generous in sharing your knowledge and experience, and you will get a lot more back from the people around you.

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