The news reports certainly grabbed your attention. Four in five Illinois quarries that backfill with concrete and other demolition waste showed higher-than-acceptable levels of toxins, according to state sampling results from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA).
The agency said it identified levels exceeding allowable limits of arsenic, lead, mercury, atrazine and other heavy metals and pesticides as well as volatile organic compounds that can cause health hazards
Among 92 quarries and other excavation sites licensed to take what state law calls clean construction and demolition debris (CCDD), the agency notified 74 of violations, including quarries in Bureau, Carroll and Whiteside counties.
Sounds serious, however according to Dan Eichholz, executive director of the Illinois Association of Aggregate Producers (IAAP), this is much ado about nothing.
Eichholz told Rock Products:
- The overwhelming majority of notices that went out were for the detection of naturally occurring metals such as iron and manganese that are found at these concentrations in uncontaminated soils throughout the state.
- The naturally occurring metals cited in these notices do not constitute a risk to human health or the environment.
- The IEPA conducted incomplete testing on the samples they collected – they did not run the full testing protocol outlined in their own rules (which recommend a Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Pprocedure (TCLP) or Synthetic Precipitation Leaching Procedure (SPLP), rather than only a totals test).
- Illinois has in place the most stringent requirements for the handling and placement of clean construction or demolition debris/uncontaminated soil fill in the country.
- The CCDD program is an environmentally sound, common sense management tool that benefits Illinois taxpayers by holding down construction costs and preventing needless filling of landfills.
- The IEPA testing shows that the system is working. As an example, the IEPA sampled all 15 sites of one company and tested for 166 different compounds and metals at each site – for a total of 2,490 constituent tests. Of that 2,490 the IEPA initially claimed 28 (1.1 percent) tested outside the Maximum Allowable Concentrations (MAC) table limits. The IEPA then ran a more extensive test and found only five (0.2 percent) testing outside the MAC table. Only one (0.04 percent of the total) of the remaining five tested outside the MAC limit for something other than iron or manganese (which are not a threat to human health). Retesting of the split sample by the owner showed the final constituent within the MAC table limits.
- All together, the IEPA conducted more than 15,000 tests for individual constituents in soils and found a tiny fraction to be outside the IEPA’s MAC table – and those were primarily for metals that pose no risk to human health.
- The current MAC table being used by the IEPA was never intended to serve as an enforcement criteria. For metals, such as iron and manganese, the MAC table limits the IEPA is using is the median level from samples taken of uncontaminated soil tested by IEPA in all 102 Illinois counties – this means that by definition, half of all clean soil in Illinois would fail these MAC table limits. In many cases their own study shows the average (or mean) levels for these metals in uncontaminated soils is outside the MAC table limits – thus, this enforcement action defies common sense.
- The current attention on this issue is being driven by the landfill industry which would prefer that these materials be trucked to their facilities – leading to increased construction costs associated with transporting materials greater distances and significantly higher fees to deposit the materials. Most of the increased costs would be paid by taxpayers while unnecessarily increasing truck traffic on local roads.
“The industry’s perspective is that the MAC table represents an acceptance criteria, and the mere occurrence of a grab sample result which shows an exceedance of the MAC table for a listed constituent does not, in and of itself, constitute the acceptance of ‘waste’ material or a violation of the law,” Eichholz stated. “For those operators who obtained split sample results from a third party and have received/reviewed the results from the state-appointed independent laboratory may be able to demonstrate that one or more results are within the MAC limits. Further, if the totals results for any constituent were outside the totals limits, TCLP results within MAC standards may convince the agency that no genuine concern for that constituent exists. Finally, in the event totals and/or TCLP results are still insufficient to convince the agency, a site characterization through additional sampling may give sufficient data to determine whether any genuine risk to human health and safety or the environment exists.”