Solid Waste & Recycling

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A "Soiled" Approach to Soil Management

With new urban development projects, larger infrastructure schemes and brownfield re-development undertakings in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), there are significant volumes of clean, impacted and contaminated soils being excavated and moved....


With new urban development projects, larger infrastructure schemes and brownfield re-development undertakings in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), there are significant volumes of clean, impacted and contaminated soils being excavated and moved. There has been increasing concern over the proper management of these soils and the illegal dumping and inappropriate management of impacted and contaminated soils.

As a result of fundamental concerns with the regulatory framework and environment ministry enforcement activity related to soils, the OWMA is identifying and addressing issues associated with soil quality, treatment and transportation including: comparisons of our regulatory framework with other jurisdictions; classification of authorized and approved sites; land disposal restrictions; and, contaminated soil storage and disposal.

Contrary to the concerns expressed by some stakeholders, Ontario landfills are not accepting or disposing large volumes of clean soils. The issue is not that clean soils that shouldn’t be managed in landfills are; rather, impacted and contaminated soils that should be managed at soil remediation facilities or landfills are ending up somewhere else. In fact, over the past few years the volume of contaminated and impacted soils being managed at landfills has fallen precipitously.

Soil remediation facilities and landfills are the appropriate management option for the large volumes or impacted and contaminated soils currently being mischaracterized or mismanaged as clean soils and ending up in rural Ontario.

OWMA strongly believes that clean soils should not end up in landfills, but also that a new regulatory framework and enforcement regime must be developed to ensure that contaminated and impacted soils are properly managed in approved facilities. In response to the growing problems surrounding soil management, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment is proposing a new soils best management practice document.

OWMA does not foresee this document, as drafted, providing resolution to the current problems. The document fails to ensure that soils are adequately tested, properly defined, and then managed appropriately. There remains major concern with the approach being taken through a best management practice document as it has no enforcement status and lacks clarity on the party responsible for ensuring appropriate final disposition.

Critical issues not addressed include: a definition of clean, impacted and contaminated soils; solutions to tracking of materials from generation to disposition; and, ensuring that proper sampling protocols are in place. The new concept of temporary “soil banks” where soils can be stored up to five years is fraught with potential abuse and represents potential environmental and financial liability to municipalities and the province.

At this time a best management practice is like putting a finger in the dike (at best). Ontario industry and the public need a more coordinated approach through a new regulatory framework and through the establishment of an overall provincial strategy for the management of excess soil. Anything less will perpetuate excess soil mismanagement and accumulate significant environmental liabilities to Ontario.

(For a perspective on soil remediation techniques and a new approach to site-specific risk assessment, read the Cover Story of the Winter 2012-2013 edition of sister publication HazMat Management by visiting the Archives section of hazmatmag.com)

Rob Cook is CEO of the Ontario Waste Management Association (OWMA) in Brampton, Ontario. Contact Rob at rcook@owma.org


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