Cost of Nuclear Waste Clean-up in the U.S. estimated at $377 Billion

A new report by the United States General Accounting Office (GAO) estimates the total cleanup cost for the radioactive contamination incurred by developing and producing nuclear weapons in the United States at a staggering $377 billion (USD), a number that jumped by more than $100 billion in just one year.

The United States Department of Energy (DoE) Office of Environmental Management (EM) is responsible for cleaning up radioactive and hazardous waste left over from nuclear weapons production and energy research at DoE facilities. The $377 billion estimate largely reflects estimates of future costs to clean up legacy radioactive tank waste and contaminated facilities and soil. 

The U.S. GAO found that EM’s liability will likely continue to grow, in part because the costs of some future work are not yet included in the estimated liability. For example, EM’s liability does not include more than $2.3 billion in costs associated with 45 contaminated facilities that will likely be transferred to EM from other DOE programs in the future.

In 1967 at the height of the U.S.–Soviet nuclear arms race, the U.S. nuclear stockpile totaled 31,255 weapons of all types. Today, that number stands at just 6,550. Although the U.S. has deactivated and destroyed 25,000 nuclear weapons, their legacy is still very much alive.

Nuclear weapons were developed and produced at more than one hundred sites during the Cold War. Cleanup began in 1989, and EM has completed cleanup at 91 of 107 nuclear sites, Still, according to the GAO, “but 16 remain, some of which are the most challenging to address.” 

EM relies primarily on individual sites to locally negotiate cleanup activities and establish priorities. GAO’s analysis of DOE documents identified instances of decisions involving billions of dollars where such an approach did not always balance overall risks and costs. For example, two EM sites had plans to treat similar radioactive tank waste differently, and the costs at one site—Hanford—may be tens of billions more than those at the other site. 

Each of the 16 cleanup sites sets its own priorities, which makes it hard to ensure that the greatest health and environmental risks are addressed first.
This is not consistent with recommendations by GAO and others over the last two decades that EM develop national priorities to balance risks and costs across and within its sites. 

By far the most expensive site to clean up is the Hanford site, which manufactured nuclear material for use in nuclear weapons during the Cold War. In 2017, the DoE estimated site cleanup costs at $141 billion.

Environmental liabilities are high risk because they have been growing for the past 20 years and will likely keep increasing.

EM has not developed a program-wide strategy that determines priority sites. Instead, it continues to prioritize and fund cleanup activities by individual site. Without a strategy that sets national priorities, EM lacks assurance that it is making the most cost-effective cleanup decisions across its sites.

The GAO is made three recommendations to DOE: (1) develop a program-wide strategy that outlines how it will balance risks and costs across sites; (2) submit its mandated annual cleanup report that meets all requirements; and (3) disclose the funding needed to meet all scheduled milestones called for in compliance agreements, either in required annual reports or other supplemental budget materials.

Update on the Thunder Bay Harbour Clean-up

As reported in TB News Watch, a recommendation on the best method of cleaning up 400,000 cubic metres of contamination sediment in Thunder Bay Harbour is not expected until the end of 2019. There’s enough industrial sediment (mainly pulp and paper sludge), containing mercury and other contaminants, on the bottom of the north harbour to fill 150 Olympic-size swimming pools.

Thunder Bay is located at the northwest corner of Lake Superior and has a population of approximately 110,000. As the largest city in Northwestern Ontario, Thunder Bay is the region’s commercial, administrative and medical centre. It had been known in that past for it pulp and paper mills and as a key shipping port for grain.

Approximate Area of Contaminated Sediment in Thunder Bay Harbour

A new working group that’s revived efforts to manage 400,000 cubic meters of contaminated sediment in Thunder Bay’s north harbour has targeted the end of 2019 for a recommended solution.

Two federal departments, Transport Canada and Environment Canada, co-chair the group which also includes the Ontario environment ministry, the Thunder Bay Port Authority and numerous other local stakeholders.

A new steering committee has been formed to examine three options for remediation presented to the public in 2014. A previous committee formed to look at those options went dormant, necessitating the refresh.

“At this point, we want to further evaluate those [three existing] options and to look at additional options over the next 14 months,” said Roger Santiago, the head of Environment and Climate Change Canada’s sediment remediation group in November of 2018. The group primarily works on cleaning up contaminated patches in the Great Lakes.

A previous steering committee was established 10 years ago, and remediation options were developed, but momentum toward a cleanup or remediation of the contaminated site slowed after that.

That was despite the fact a 2013 risk assessment identified “unacceptable risks” to human health and to plant and animal life in the harbour area:

  • potential risk to people consuming fish (fish consumption advisory in place to mitigate the risk)
  • potential risk to people coming in direct contact with contaminated sediment
  • potential risk to kingfishers from mercury
  • potential risk to sediment-dwelling organisms from total resin acids

Impetus for a cleanup occurred earlier this year after Patty Hajdu, the MP for Thunder Bay-Superior North, raised the issue with her cabinet colleagues, the transport and environment ministers.

There’s enough industrial sediment, containing mercury and other contaminants, on the bottom of the north harbour to fill 150 Olympic-size swimming pools.

The area was classified by a consultant and by federal experts as a Class 1 polluted site using the Federal Aquatic Sites Classification System. Class 1 sites indicate high priority for action.

A Transport Canada spokesperson told Tbnewswatch the working group will spend the next 12 months on technical and environmental studies, and will consult with the general public and with Indigenous groups as it evaluates a short list of management options.

The source of the contamination is historical dumping of pulp and paper mill pollution that resulted in mercury-contaminated paper sludge up to 4 metres thick lying at the bottom of the harbour. The sediment is contaminated with mercury in concentrations that range from 2 to 11 ppm at the surface of the sediment to 21 ppm at depth and ranging in thickness from 40 to 380 centimeters and covering an area of about 22 hectares (54 acres).


Greyish, digested pulp sludge up to 4 metres thick lies across the north harbour bottom (Transport Canada)


Clean-up Options

A 2017 Consultants report stated that the preferred option was to dredge the sediment and transfer it to the Mission Bay Confined Disposal Facility (CDF) at the harbour’s south end.  The dredging and transfer option was estimated to cost $40 million to $50 million, and was considered the best choice based on factors such as environmental effectiveness and budget.  The consultants also looked at other options, including capping and excavation/isolation.

The capping option would consist of placing clean material on top of the contaminated material to contain and isolate the contaminants. A geotextile (a strong fabric barrier) will support the cap material. The budget for this option was estimated at $30-$40 million.

The proposed excavation option would involve building a dam to isolate the contaminated material from the water prior to removal. Once the dam was built, the area would be dewatered so that earth-moving equipment like excavators, loaders and bulldozers can be used to remove the material. It would then be disposed of in a secure landfill. A new on-site Confined Disposal Facility has been recommended or the use of the the existing Confined Disposal Facility at Mission Bay. The excavation option is estimated to cost $80-$90 million.

No matter what is decided upon, the 2017 consultant’s report estimated it would take seven years to complete the clean up. 


Canadian Federal Government Proposing New Regulations on Cross-border movement of Hazardous Waste

Environment Canada and Climate Change (ECCC), which is the Canadian equivalent of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, recently released draft regulations to control the cross-border movement of hazardous waste and hazardous recyclable material. The regulations, if eventually promulgated, would repeal and replace the Export and Import Regulations, the Interprovincial Movement Regulations, and the PCB Waste Export Regulations. Although the proposed Regulations would maintain the core permitting and movement tracking requirements of the former regulations, the regulatory provisions would be amended to ensure greater clarity and consistency of the regulatory requirements.

Electronic Tracking System

The proposed Regulations would provide flexibility for the electronic movement tracking system by no longer prescribing the specific form required for tracking shipments of hazardous waste and hazardous recyclable material. Instead, the proposed Regulations would require specific information to be included in a movement document (that can be generated electronically) and would allow movement document information to be passed on to different parties in parallel to facilitate the tracking rather than prescribing the handover of copies from one party to another.

Furthermore, given that movement documents would be able to be managed electronically, the proposed Regulations would no longer require that the movement document and permit physically accompany the shipment. The proposed Regulations would instead require parties to immediately produce the movement document and the permit upon request. Similar simplifications would be included in the provisions related to the movement document for interprovincial movements of hazardous waste and hazardous recyclable material.

The proposed Regulations would clarify the responsibility of a receiving (importing) facility to pass on information regarding the origin of the hazardous waste and hazardous recyclable material being transferred to a subsequent authorized facility for final disposal or recycling. Clarifications would also be made to the provisions for the return and rerouting of shipments to better align those requirements with current practice and ensure that confirmation of disposal from the alternative facility is also required in order to properly complete the tracking of those shipments.

Definitions of hazardous waste and hazardous recyclable material

With respect to interprovincial movements, under the proposed regulations, the definitions of hazardous waste and hazardous recyclable material would be aligned with those of international movements. In addition, proposed changes to those definitions would ensure a more consistent application of regulatory provisions for all types of transboundary movements and would better align definitions with other jurisdictions and international agreements. Some of these proposed changes are listed below.

Toxicity characteristic leaching procedure

The proposed Regulations would reference the toxicity characteristic leaching procedure (TCLP), in its entirety. This procedure is a standard test method used to evaluate the mobility of a number of contaminants that may be found in waste and recyclable material and, therefore, their potential for release. While making reference to the TCLP, the Export and Import Regulations exclude a step requiring that the size of particles in a sample be reduced to fit into the testing apparatus. In order to ensure that the method is used consistently, hazardous waste and hazardous recyclable material undergoing testing would need to be shredded to meet the TCLP’s specific particle size requirement.

Electrical and electronic equipment

Electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) is not currently listed as hazardous under the Export and Import Regulations and must meet other criteria to fall under the definitions of hazardous waste or hazardous recyclable material, which can be difficult to ascertain. The proposed Regulations would clearly designate “circuit boards and display devices and any equipment that contains them” as hazardous waste or hazardous recyclable material to be controlled when destined for specific disposal or recycling operations. The proposed Regulations would maintain the exclusion currently under the Export and Import Regulations for this type of hazardous waste and hazardous recyclable material moving within OECD countries (including moving between provinces and territories in Canada).

Mercury

The proposed Regulations would remove the small quantity exclusion for hazardous waste and hazardous recyclable material containing mercury. Any waste or material containing any amount of mercury that meets the definitions of hazardous waste or hazardous recyclable material would be subject to the regulatory provisions for both international and interprovincial movements.

Batteries

Batteries are not currently listed as hazardous under the Export and Import Regulations and must meet other criteria to fall under the definitions of hazardous waste or hazardous recyclable material. Some types of batteries are clearly covered by the definitions; however, for some other types it is not clear. The proposed Regulations would clarify that all types of batteries (i.e. rechargeable and non-rechargeable) being shipped internationally or interprovincially for disposal or recycling are included in the definitions of hazardous waste and hazardous recyclable material.

Terrapure Battery Recycling Facility

Waste and recyclable material generated on ships

The proposed Regulations would add a new exclusion to clarify that waste or recyclable material generated from the normal operations of a ship is not captured by the definitions of hazardous waste and hazardous recyclable material. This exclusion would further harmonize the proposed Regulations with the Basel Convention (which excludes this waste) and the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 where this waste is already covered.

Residual quantities

The proposed Regulations would add a new exclusion for waste or recyclable material that is to be transported in a container after the contents of that container have been removed to the maximum extent feasible and before the container is either refilled or cleaned of its residual content. This exclusion would clarify that such waste or recyclable material is not captured by the definitions of hazardous waste and hazardous recyclable material.

Recycling operation R14

Over the years, ECCC has received numerous questions regarding recycling operation R14 found in Schedule 2 of the Export and Import of Hazardous Waste and Hazardous Recyclable Material Regulations. Section 2 R14 reads as follows : “Recovery or regeneration of a substance or use or re-use of a recyclable material, other than by any of operations R1 to R10”. This recycling operation is not included in the Basel Convention or the OECD Decision.  ECCC is proposing to delete this part of operation R14 to remove uncertainty about its application.  This change may result in some recyclable material no longer being captured and defined as hazardous.  For example, a used material that is to be used directly in another process that is not listed as a recycling operation would no longer be captured. 
This change would further align regulatory provisions with international guidelines under the Basel Convention.


Exports, Imports and Transits of Hazardous Waste and Hazardous Recyclable Material 2003-2012

Proposed changes regarding waste containing PCBs

The regulatory provisions for the export of waste containing PCBs would be streamlined and integrated into those for hazardous waste and hazardous recyclable material. This would include removing the partial prohibition on exports of waste containing PCBs in a concentration equal to or greater than 50 mg/kg to allow controlled exports beyond the United States. Therefore, waste and recyclable material containing PCBs in a concentration equal to or greater than 50 mg/kg would be able to be exported provided a permit is obtained and all of the conditions of the proposed Regulations are met.

Proposed changes to improve the permitting process

The proposed Regulations would no longer require the name of the insurance company and the policy number for the exporter, the importer and carriers with the notification (i.e. permit application). In addition, copies of the contracts would no longer need to be provided with the notification. In both cases, the applicant would be required to provide a statement to the effect that valid insurance policies and contracts are in place and to keep proof of insurance coverage and copies of contracts at their place of business in Canada for five years.

The proposed Regulations would require a new notification for any changes in information, other than correcting clerical errors, on a permit.

The proposed Regulations would increase the maximum duration of a permit from 12 months to 3 years, consistent with international agreements, for the movement of hazardous recyclable material directed to pre-consented facilities within OECD countries.

The proposed Regulations would set out conditions under which a permit may be refused, suspended or revoked.

Impacts on Business – Costs and Operations

According to the consultation documents prepared by ECCC, the proposed Regulations, if promulgated, would affect 295 companies, 281 of which would be considered small businesses. For these small businesses, the proposed Regulations are expected to result in incremental compliance and administrative costs of $296,000 in average annualized costs, that is, $1,070 per small business.

If the proposed Regulations are implemented, it would result in an clarifications to the definitions of hazardous waste and would ensure a more consistent application of regulatory provisions. In addition, the proposed Regulations would help minimize environmental impacts outside Canada by ensuring that exported hazardous waste and hazardous recyclable material reach the intended disposal or recycling facilities. The present value of compliance and administrative costs of the proposed Regulations would be $2.5 million in 2017 Canadian dollars, discounted at 3% to 2018 over a 10-year period between 2021 and 2030.

The proposed Regulations would impose incremental administrative costs on industry attributable to the completion of additional movement documents for interprovincial movements of hazardous waste and hazardous recyclable material. Provincial and territorial authorities that are using a tracking system would achieve small savings if they decided not to request movement document information. The present value of administrative costs of the proposed Regulations are expected to be $460,000 in 2017 Canadian dollars, discounted at 3% to 2018, over a 10-year period between 2021 and 2030.

Public Consultation

Public comments to the proposed Regulations are being accepted by ECCC until up to mid-February. Any person may file with the Minister of the Environment comments with respect to the proposed Regulations or a notice of objection requesting that a board of review be established under section 333 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 and stating the reasons for the objection. All comments and notices must cite the Canada Gazette, Part I, and the date of publication of this notice, and be sent by mail to Nathalie Perron, Director, Waste Reduction and Management Division, Environmental Protection Branch, Department of the Environment, 351 Saint-Joseph Blvd., Gatineau, Quebec K1A 0H3 (fax: 819-938-4553; email: ec.mt-tm.ec@canada.ca).

Clean-up of Potential CFL Stadium Site for Halifax Schooners

Shannon Park is located in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, across the bay from Halifax. It is the the site of a former military housing complex. Environmental studies show that the site is contaminated with approximately 24,000 tonnes of soil containing arsenic and hydrocarbons.

The site has been empty since 2003. In 2014, it was purchased by Canada Lands Company, a federal crown corporation. In 2017, all buildings on the site were demolished.

In November 2018, the federal government issued tender documents for remediation of the site with the goal of it being cleaned up by the spring of 2019.

In December, it was announced that Dexter Construction Company Ltd. was recently awarded a contract to excavate, transport, and dispose of the contaminated soil from the Shannon Park site. They are also required to backfill the excavated area with clean fill as part of the contract. The value of contract is $900,933.

Dexter Construction, located in nearby Bedford, is the largest civil contractor in Nova Scotia with over 40 years of experience in infrastructure, mining, and the environment. Dexter Construction Company Limited is a subsidiary of Municipal Enterprises Limited and is the construction arm of the Municipal Group of Companies.

Previous environmental projects that Dexter Construction has been involved with include the Halifax Regional Municipality landfill development and the Halifax Harbour sewage treatment system construction.

With respect to the site being the home to a new stadium for the Halifax Schooners of the Canadian Football League, there is much to be done including the football team purchasing the land, raising $200 million to build the stadium, and getting approval for construction.

Plan for Football Stadium at Shannon Park, Dartmouth

Is Ontario “Open for Business” when it comes to Excess Soil Management?

by  Grant Walsom, XCG Consultants

Since the 2013 call for a review in the regulatory gaps surrounding the ability for enforcement on mismanagement of excess soils in Ontario, the Ministry of Environment (now called Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks – MECP) has tirelessly worked towards a proposed Excess Soil Regulatory package for Ontario.  The efforts have included an unprecedented process of stakeholder listening sessions, consultations and engagement group meetings and inter-Ministerial reviews over the past 5 years.

The proposed Excess Soil Regulatory Package was formed through 2 separate postings on the Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR) and is reportedly ready for Cabinet Approval.  Further, the regulatory package is formulated with general overall acceptance by the construction and development industry in Ontario as well as the supporting industries (i.e., legal, consulting, laboratories) and municipalities.  It is generally agreed that the proposed Regulation outlines possible opportunities for beneficial reuse with sustainable considerations (examples would be reduced truck traffic and reduced greenhouse gases creation).

We are coming to understand that the current Conservative Provincial Government is strongly opposed to a majority of initiatives created by the previous Liberal Government.  The Conservatives are in favour of the red-tape reduction, streamlining operations and fiscal responsibility.  In fact, there is now a Deputy Minister of Red Tape and Regulatory Burden Reduction in the Ontario Cabinet.  His job is to make Ontario “Open for Business.”  Any new Regulation such as those being reviewed by MECP could certainly be viewed as counter-productive in terms of red-tape reduction.    However, with the release of the Made-in- Ontario Environment Plan on November 29, 2018, it appears that Excess Soil Regulation will be enacted in some form in the not-to-distant future.  There will no doubt be some changes to the proposed Regulatory package, but it is good to see that Regulation will proceed.

To date, one of the biggest challenges that the enforcement regime of the Environment Ministry had was the gap in how excess soil (impacted with contaminants or not) could be classified as a “waste material” if it’s not managed properly or if it’s illegally dumped.  We have all seen the extensive media coverage of a number of illegal dump sites, innocent property owners mislead on the quality of the fill they are accepting, and private air-fields who have capitalized on the regulatory gaps in Ontario where excess soil is concerned.  Enforcement against illegal dumping or misrepresentation of the soil quality is not clear or easily achieved under the current Environmental Protection Act and regulations such as Regulation 347 (Waste Management).  Minor amendments to Regulation 153/04 (Brownfields Regulation) have also been proposed to assist in streamlining and simplifying filing of Records of Site Condition and redevelopment of Brownfield properties.  Further definitions of soil, waste and inert fill are also forthcoming in the new proposed Excess Soil Regulatory package.

One of the main benefits of the proposed Excess Soil Regulation is the clarity it provides in the expectations of appropriate management of excess soil along with the steps that would be followed to provide the level of certainty that the public would expect.  It puts a heavy onus on the generator of the excess soil (or the source site) to assess the quality against a set of new standards.  The Standards were developed as a subset of the O. Reg. 153/04 Brownfield Standards, aimed at assisting in identifying acceptable and beneficial re-use of the excess soil.

Beneficial reuse of excess soil has a strong consideration for soil quality in terms of chemical testing to assess for contaminants; however, Ontario soils are highly variable with respect to the geotechnical quality for engineered reuse (i.e., silt, clay, sands, gravels and poor quality mixed fill).  Recovered excess soil may require some screening/grading to classify the geotechnical qualities prior to identifying an appropriate engineered and beneficial reuse.  Market-based solutions and opportunities for excess soil supply and demand services are sure to be identified as creative Ontarians have historically shown innovation in finding geotechnical solutions for excess soil.  The new regulatory package allows for this to happen to the benefit of both sender and receiver parties. Increasingly, clients are also choosing to avoid moving soils by employing methods to limit or even eliminate the amount of soils that have to be moved from a poor fill site with things like landscaped architectural features or ground improvement to treat soils in place.

Another benefit of the proposed excess soil regulation is the placement of the responsibility to ensure and “certify” the quality of the excess soil and the appropriate handling and re-use of the material by the source site or generator.  This requires a shift in the thinking around management of any excess soil materials to be assessed and pre-planned at the beginning of a project, versus at the last minute and left to the excavation contractor, as has historically been done.  The shift in thinking and pre-planning may take time, but with the assistance of the “Qualified Person” community in Ontario, the planning can be simplified.  The industry is already starting to shift to a more responsible management of excess soils, with the knowledge of potential Regulatory changes. The proposed Excess Soil Regulatory package has a well-defined transition period of two full years to be fully enacted, giving the construction and development industry time to become used to the shift in thinking and pre-planning as well as the procurement groups to ensure that the appropriate assessment and characterization activities are completed.

The benefits of many aspects of the proposed Excess Soil Regulatory package are clear and are desired in Ontario.  The business community has hoped that the current Conservative Government in Ontario understands that the Excess Soil Regulatory package has been requested by the citizens of Ontario, and formulated through an exhaustive consultation and engagement of the various stakeholders in the Province. It has also been hoped that the current Provincial Government sees the value in many aspects of the proposed regulatory package for management of excess soils.  With reference to Excess Soil Regulation in the Environment Plan, it certainly appears that the current Provincial Government does see the value.  Further, the complimentary minor amendments to the soil and waste definitions are needed as are the proposed amendments to the Brownfield Regulation.

Since the June 2018 election, the construction and development industries in Ontario have been patiently waiting for clarity on how the current Provincial Government plans to proceed.  It is clear that this new legislative change will help to make Ontario open for business and it appears that the current Provincial Government agrees.  We will now see what changes to the proposed Regulatory Package will be made, hopefully, sooner than later.

This article was first published in the Geosolv website.

About the Author

Grant Walsom, P.Eng., is a Partner at XCG Consulting Limited and recognized as a Qualified Person in Ontario under the Record of Site Condition Regulation (O. Reg. 153/04). He proudly serves on the Board of Directors at the Ontario Environment Industry Association (ONEIA) and the Canadian Brownfields Network (CBN). Grant can be reached at grant.walsom@xcg.com.

Financing Soil Remediation: Exploring the use of financing instruments to blend public and private capital

The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) recently released a report entitled Financing Soil Remediation: Exploring the use of financing instruments to blend public and private capital.

The report makes the statement that governments around the world are looking at opportunities to attract private capital participation in both land remediation and its productive use and redevelopment thereafter. The business case is intrinsically the value capture in the increase in retail price of land and related business opportunities once the remediation is complete. However, where land value capture is lower and related revenue streams remain uncertain, the case for private capital participation is much less compelling. Governments, in this case, have to fund the remediation through public budgets and thereafter seek opportunities to partner with private counter-parties to use the land as “fit for purpose.”

The IISD report presents 17 case studies on a variety of financing instruments that blend public and private capital. Each case study includes a short discussion on the extent to which each instrument could be used to finance the remediation of contaminated soil.  The case studies in thereport demonstrate a variety of financing strategies, from index-linked bonds to savings accounts and from peer-to-peer lending platforms to debt-for-nature swaps.

This report is a part of a series of outputs of a four-year project, Financing Models for Soil Remediation. The overall objective of the project is to harness the full range of green finance approaches and vehicles to manage the associated risk and fund the remediation of contaminated soils.

The series of reports focuses on the financial vehicles available to attract investment to environmental rehabilitation of degraded land and the financial reforms needed to make these vehicles a viable and desirable means of investing in land rehabilitation. The IISD draws on best practices worldwide in funding environmental rehabilitation, with a special focus on the design and use of financial mechanisms to attract private investors, share the risk and offer a clear benefit for the rehabilitated land.

Several lessons emerge from these case studies described in the report in the context of financing the remediation of contaminated land, including the following:

  1. As with all financial arrangements, the risk appetite of different investors has to match the risk profile of
    the investment. It is difficult to crowd in private and institutional investors when projects remain below
    investment grade.
  2. Money follows a good deal. When legal, technological, revenue and other risks are understood and are
    transparent, feasible ways to reduce these uncertainties can be planned and financing strategies can be
    worked upon.
  3. When there is reasonable certainty that the value of the land will increase after remediation and will
    subsequently generate stable and predictable revenues, there is a strong case for blending public and
    private financing.
  4. When, on the other hand, projects have less attractive revenue potential, governments have to step in to
    finance the remediation, or at least a larger part of it.

About the IISD

The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), headquartered in Winnipeg, Manitoba, is an independent think tank championing sustainable solutions to 21st–century problems. The mission of the IISD is to promote human development and environmental sustainability. IISD focuses on research, analysis, and knowledge products that support sound policy making.

Ontario construction groups launch video series on excess soil management

In southern Ontario, the management and use of excess soil is a growing issue.  There has long been concerns of unscrupulous players wrongly classifying contaminated soil as excess soil and managing it incorrectly.  Likewise, there has been long-standing concerns expressed by those wanting to do the right thing of ambiguous and uncertain rules with respect to determining what is excess soil and how to manage it.  As a result, honest industry participants end up hauling excess soil to landfill that could have otherwise been utilized for useful purposes.

According to data compiled by the the Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario (RCCAO), Ontario’s  construction market generates almost 26 million cubic metres of excess construction soil every year.  About $2 billion is spent annually to manage excess soil – which comes from civil infrastructure projects such as transit, roads, bridges, sewers, watermains and other utilities.  Even though most municipal roadways contain only minor amounts of salt from winter road treatment, large quantities of soil are often hauled up to 100 kilometres away to designated dump sites, rather than being reused on site or at other nearby construction sites.

“Clean excess soil can be more responsibly managed through better upfront planning,” says Andy Manahan, executive director of the Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario (RCCAO). “That’s why we co-produced a three-part video series to increase awareness that there are alternatives to the ‘dig, haul long distances and dump’ approach.”

RCCAO teamed up with the Greater Toronto Sewer and Watermain Contractors Association (GTSWCA) to produce this video series to inform the public, government and industry on the benefits of using best management practices. It’s called “The Real Dirt on Dirt: Solutions for Construction Soil Management.”

There are a lot of trucks on the road travelling 60 to 100 kilometres to dump excess soil as a waste material – and that is completely wrong, says Giovanni Cautillo, executive director of GTSWCA.

“It’s not a waste – it’s a reusable resource,” Cautillo says. “When municipalities provide guidance to contractors about where soil from local infrastructure projects can be reused, the costs of handling and disposing of soil can be dramatically reduced. Wherever possible, soil should be reused onsite, but if this is not possible, having an approved reuse site within a close distance saves taxpayers money.”

When best management practices are used, there are fewer trucks travelling long distances, causing less wear and tear to the roads – and less traffic congestion. Fewer trucks on the road reduces greenhouse gas emissions, creating a cleaner, healthier environment.

The Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) is currently reviewing draft regulations to help improve ways to manage soil on building and infrastructure projects across the province. Manahan says that “a multi-ministry approach – environment, municipal affairs, transportation, infrastructure and others – will also help to achieve a more coordinated effort.”

Gaps on the movement of dangerous goods in Northern Canada

As reported by the The Canadian Press, the Canadian federal government says it doesn’t know enough about how, when, and where dangerous goods move through the Canadian North, highlighting the potential risks of a major spill or other disaster.

As a result, the possible effects on public safety and the environment are also unclear, Transport Canada acknowledges.

The department is commissioning a study to help fill in the knowledge gaps and improve readiness when it comes to movement of goods ranging from explosives and flammable liquids to infectious substances and radioactive materials.

The effort will focus on regions north of the 55th parallel as well as on more southerly, but isolated, areas in eastern Manitoba and northern Ontario, says a newly issued call for bids to carry out the study.

The overall goal is to fully identify the hazardous substances transported throughout these areas and the major hubs that link to relevant airports, marine ports, ice roads, railroads, mines, refining sites, manufacturing plants and warehouses.

The information will help Transport Canada pinpoint potential risks and make decisions concerning safety regulations and compliance, the tender notice says.

A stark reminder of the difficulty of moving goods in northern Canada came when the only rail line to Churchill, Man., was flooded and it became impossible to deliver freight overland until an ice road was built.

There are also virtually no freight rail lines north of the 60th parallel, except for rail access to Hay River in the Northwest Territories, the notice says. Considering the seasonal nature of ice roads and ports, there are limited routes for movement of dangerous goods in or out of northern Canada and other remote areas, it adds.

The tenuous nature of northern transportation systems mean there are “gaps in information” about the kinds of dangerous goods transported, the volume of shipments and the sort of emergency response systems available.

“We continuously examine ways to make transportation in Canada safer for all and this assessment is part of our effort to ensure even greater knowledge regarding the handling of goods in the North,” said Transport Canada spokeswoman Annie Joannette.

She declined to provide additional information given the competitive tender process underway.

The most valuable element of the exercise could be the educational process of better informing people about the risks of transporting dangerous substances, said Rob Huebert, a northern studies expert at the University of Calgary.

“It’s always about the follow-through,” he said. “Because you can have all these exercises through the ying-yang, but if you’re not setting up the system properly and then maintaining the system, what’s the point of having it?”

Until now, Canada’s emergency preparedness efforts have largely been focused on maritime response and less on land-based accidents, he said.

“I think a lot of people always forget that the North is an area that is just so different from every place else.”

North American Rail Network (Transportation Safety Board of Canada)

Mesothelioma Awareness: Asbestos and Occupational Safety

by Sarah Wallace, Mesothelioma + Asbestos Awareness Center

For many years, the natural mineral known as asbestos was used in constructing buildings, insulation, roofing, and homes. Asbestos is heavily regulated in the United States today, but many people are still exposed daily to asbestos containing materials (ACMs) that still exist in buildings, structures, and homes. During demolition, DIY, or renovation projects, asbestos can become friable and people are then susceptible to inhaling the small fibers. When asbestos becomes lodged in the body, specifically in the lining of the lungs, abdomen, or heart, it can lead to lung cancer or mesothelioma.

Even though the use of asbestos has decreased dramatically in the United States since the late 20th century, mesothelioma is still the leading occupational cancer. This is because the disease can take up to 50 years to develop, and those who were exposed to asbestos prior to the 1980s are still being diagnosed today. On top of that, professionals who work in different industries that have a history of asbestos use, such as construction, manufacturing, and shipyard work, are still at risk of exposure they may come into contact with materials and products made before regulations were put in place. Due to the microscopic size of asbestos fibers and ambiguity around where the toxin could have been used in the past, it’s important for workers to stay educated on where asbestos might be hiding and what safety precautions to take on the job.

Occupations most at risk and how to stay safe:

Construction Workers– Because asbestos was used heavily in the construction of homes and other buildings, many construction workers have been exposed to asbestos, and they are still at risk for exposure. With ACMs still existing in buildings, approximately 1 million construction workers could still be vulnerable to asbestos annually. Today, professionals in the construction industry are at risk for first-hand exposure more than any other profession. Workers in multiple trades including roofers, carpenters, electricians, and masonry should be aware of asbestos as they work.

In order for workers to protect themselves, professionals in these fields should take the precaution of wearing the proper masks during any type of construction project. Understanding the age of the building and what asbestos looks like is also important because this could help workers know the risks associated with a certain structure, making them less vulnerable to exposure. Keep in mind that asbestos can exist in a variety of products including drywall, shingles, ceiling tiles, and insulation, so even those participating in DIY projects should be aware of where their health and safety could be at risk.

Firefighters– Asbestos fibers can be released into the air when a building or home catches on fire. This puts first responders like firefighters in danger of inhaling the toxin in the process of putting out a fire. This leaves firefighters at risk to develop peritoneal mesothelioma, which originates in the lining of the lungs after being inhaled.  While the initial danger to firefighters is the fire itself, even after the flames are put out, asbestos could be present in the air as the structure cools off. Firefighter equipment is designed to keep out hazardous materials like asbestos, but many people do not understand that certain risks persist even after the initial fire is put out. Asbestos fibers can attach to clothing, leading to the possibility of second-hand exposure for those who might come in contact with any type of clothing used at the scene of the fire.

In order to limit exposure to asbestos particles, firefighters should wear a certified self-containing breathing apparatus (SCBA) mask that covers the mouth and nose in order to protect themselves while on the job. They should also keep masks on even after the fire has been put out while debris is cooling, because asbestos fibers could still be in the air. To eliminate risks of exposure for family, friends, and colleagues, firefighters should also remove their gear before leaving the scene and wash off before returning home.

 Shipyard Workers– At one time, asbestos exposure was a large risk for laborers and those employed on ships. Due to the mineral’s strong and heat resistant attributes, was often used for things like boilers and steam pipes on Navy ships and shipyards. As a result, many shipyard laborers were exposed to asbestos, especially if they worked as electricians, painters, machinists, or “asbestos insulators.” This is one of the reasons veterans make up about 30 percent of mesothelioma diagnoses in the United States.

Shipyard workers are less likely to be exposed first-hand to asbestos today, but anyone working with older shipbuilding materials or piping should be aware of the possible risks and wear the appropriate masks to limit inhaling fibers. Workers who have been exposed in the past should let their primary care doctor know and stay up-to-date on appointments. Symptoms of mesothelioma specifically can often go undiagnosed because they are similar to symptoms of the flu, manifesting as a cough at first and eventually leading to shortness of breath and fever. If you know that you have been exposed, paying careful attention to your health and communicating with your doctor could lead to an early diagnosis, improving prognosis and life expectancy.

Preventing asbestos-related disease

 If you come across asbestos on the job, contacting a professional who knows how to handle the material will be the best way to move forward. No amount of asbestos exposure is safe, and handling the mineral should be taken seriously before proceeding with a project. Mesothelioma is a deadly but preventable cancer, if the correct steps are taken by employers and employees. Although asbestos has been heavily regulated over time, there is still not a ban on the material in the United States. Taking the time to check labels before using any products and educating others in your industry on how to protect themselves are sure ways to help bring an end to mesothelioma and other health issues caused by asbestos.

 

Developer takes Alberta to appeal board over former Edmonton wood treatment plant

As reported by Global News, Cherokee Canada is fighting five enforcement orders imposed by Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) connected to the former Domtar Wood Treatment Facility located in Edmonton.  AEP has been conducting an investigation on properties associated with the former Wood Treatment Plant. As a result of the investigation, a number of Enforcement Orders were issued to the current owners, Cherokee Canada.

Nearby residents, concerned by off-site migration of wood treatment chemicals, have been kept up-to-date of the results of the AEP investigation and subsequent enforcement actions. Contaminants from a historical wood treatment processing plant continue to exist on property formerly occupied by the Domtar Wood Treatment Plant.  This contamination, which originated prior to 1987, consists of benzene, dioxins and furans, free hydrocarbons, naphthalene, polycylic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) mixtures, and pyrene.

AEP stated in a news release that it issued the Enforcement Orders to ensure the responsible parties implement appropriate remedial measures and mitigate the potential risks that have been identified.  The latest Enforcement Orders require that the source of the contamination be controlled and remedial measures be implemented in specific areas of the property.

Off-site testing at lands adjacent to Cherokee Canada development (Photo Credit: CTV Edmonton)

Results of off-site testing for contamination in early 2018 found that contamination had not migrated off-site and that there are no health concerns in the surface soil of people’s properties. The off-site testing program was conducted by an independent third-party consulting firm under the direction of AEP.

Cherokee Canada, the developer has started turning the site of the old Wood Treatment Plant in northeast Edmonton into a new residential community but the current and ongoing legal proceedings have halted the project.  “It’s been very difficult because it’s effectively frozen our activities for three years now,” said John Dill, Cherokee Canada’s managing partner.  “It’s very expensive to go through this process, ” he added.

Houses have already been built in the neighbourhood but recently, the AEP questioned the safety of the soil.  AEP said third party testing at the site found chemicals dangerous to human health. The enforcement orders require Cherokee to remediate any contamination.

“The core aspect of these orders is to basically remove potentially large amounts of soil from these sites,” said Gilbert Van Nes, general counsel for the Environmental Appeals Board. “Domtar and Cherokee disagree that this is necessary.”

Both Cherokee Canada and Domtar have completed remediation efforts but AEP, through the enforcement orders, are claiming that they didn’t go far enough.

“Our approach was to take the contaminated soil, isolate it in a separate soil berm — again, a common practice in other jurisdictions — and ensure the soil was protected from exposure to other receptors, humans, animal,” Dill said.  “The disagreement is over how we can remediate this site so it’s safe for residential standards so that we can complete our residential development and restore the site that was previously contaminated to productive use.”

Three environmental experts are heading up the independent appeal board.  The board will pass its findings on to the environment minister and Shannon Phillips will make the final decision on whether construction can resume. However, a decision is not expected until December.

A map shows the former site of the Domtar creosote plant. (Photo Credit: CBC)