With more than six million objects, the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) is Canada’s largest museum and home of priceless artifacts. It also represents the changing face of the country’s construction and demolition (C&D) industry; the downtown Toronto building is currently undergoing extensive restorations and renovations that include a new glass structure. The project is known as “Renaissance ROM.”
“We’re carefully working around a $40-million mural and two statues dated from the Ming Dynasty,” says Dave Fusek, vice president of business development with Murray Demolition, the company responsible for demolishing parts of the old building.
“There are heightened health and safety issues because of the thousands of people who pass through this high-traffic intersection each day,” he says, adding that the project presents an opportunity to recover and recycle thousands of pounds of scrap materials.
Sizing up the C&D market
According to the Construction Materials Recycling Association, C&D waste accounts for between 25 to 45 per cent of the overall North American waste stream. The percentage depends on the region considered. The Recycling Council of Ontario estimates that by weight and volume C&D materials make up the biggest recycling industry in Canada.
While most communities in Canada manage and recycle municipal solid waste, plus industrial and hazardous household materials, many are only now beginning to focus on the C&D debris stream. This waste stream includes concrete, asphalt, wood, gypsum drywall and metals that can be very valuable.
The industry has evolved considerably in recent years. Certain “old school” organizations have fizzled away, according to James Sbrolla, an environment business consultant (and contributor to this magazine) who started in the environment industry with Delsan Demolition more than a decade ago.
“What was once mostly a wrecking-ball business has become and industry of multi-million-dollar turnkey redevelopments,” he says.
Prospective redevelopers work with professional C&D contractors and engineers to coordinate a researched and thoroughly prepared C&D plan in accordance with environmental regulations, and decommissioning evaluations include environmental assessments and waste audits. C&D debris is not simply sent to landfill; nowadays it’s more likely to be sold to the highest bidder in an investment recovery program. The market is growing for recovered metals (especially copper and aluminum), cardboard, plastics and papers, although market prices fluctuate and increasingly-strict quality and environmental standards have to be met.
Demolition crews use high-tech equipment that includes state-of-the-art excavators and attachments (hydraulic sheers, etc.), concrete pulverizers, and industrial vacuums equipped with HEPA filters that isolate dust from composites, fiberglass, plastics, lead-based paint, asbestos, and various hazardous coatings.
At the ROM, Murray Demolition employs environmental consulting firm Rowan Williams Davies & Irwin Inc. to perform seismic monitoring and to ensure precision in the demolition (to allow workers to confidently perform their jobs without compromising the integrity of adjacent structures).
In addition to industrial decommissioning, there are challenging urban redevelopments, interior strip-outs (some requiring highly specialized implosion services), and sensitive historical enhancements like that of the ROM. And then there are the numerous regulations and standards with which project managers must contend. For example, the Walkerton water tragedy raised awareness of the issue of groundwater contamination. Now pressure is mounting to require that C&D landfills be specially lined, since studies recently found that the leachate from C&D debris may not pass primary and secondary drinking water standards.
Industry experts estimate that about 60 per cent of C&D business in Canada is concentrated in Ontario and Quebec, but there are notable projects across the country. (To read about the Sydney Steel decommissioning in Nova Scotia, see the “posted documents” section at www.solidwastemag.com)
Two firms command a large share of the $100-million C&D market in Canada. According to Sbrolla, Murray Demolition based in Toronto, Ontario (which emerged from Delsan Demolition and Philip Services Corp. and was incorporated in 2002) commands approximately 30 per cent of the market. Priestly Demolition Inc. of Aurora, Ontario has an estimated 15 per cent market share. There are several other smaller companies that also compete for business, especially in densely populated and developed areas.
Some of the well-known names from the past have gone through changes. Teperman — one of the oldest C&D names in the business — has gone through two corporate incarnations. Greenspoon Bros. Ltd. based in Brampton, Ontario recently went bankrupt.
The business is highly competitive and with today’s environmental standards it can be tricky to turn a profit. Jordan Teperman confirms that his company recently took down a hydro plant in Windsor. From its $1.9-million fee, $1.8-million was spent just removing asbestos insulation.
Although there are still stories in the industry of botched jobs and allegations of illegal C&D debris dumping, companies have found that winning new business increasingly requires a commitment to comprehensive projects that often leave an area looking better than it did before. A good example is the recent decommissioning of a former gold mine on the Quebec-Ontario border. (See article, page 41)
Whether they’re demolishing part of a high-profile building such as the ROM or an obscure industrial site, the companies know high standards are critical in remaining competitive.
Says Dave Fusek, “With the amount of information we’re all privy to today, there’s no excuse for compromising environmental standards or safety.”
Connie Vitello is editor this magazine. E-mail Connie at email@example.com