Reusable rubble saves city money

By Sean Stillmaker

In an effort to be environmentally and economically efficient, the Chicago Department of Environment proposed a new ordinance to reuse rubble and soil at project sites within the city.

Currently, rubble and soil at project sites—such as new condominium construction—are transported to landfills and quarries. Construction companies are mandated by city law to do so and replace it with new soil.

The ordinance, presented to the city’s Committee on Energy on Feb. 9, proposes that non-contaminated rubble and soil that can be utilized at other project sites around the city be reused. This ordinance is an intergovernmental agreement between the Chicago Department of Environment and Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.

The reuse of rubble and soil will reduce transportation, disposal and virgin soil costs, gas emissions (from trucks transporting to landfills) and conserve capacity at the landfills and quarries, said Suzanne Malec-McKenna, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Environment.

“It’s a great example on how environmental actions can have great economic impacts, as well,” Malec-McKenna said.

In 2007, the DOE facilitated the reuse of 3,210 cubic yards of clay from Chicago Transit Authorityand the Department of Water Management, as well as 12 loads of concrete rubble from Chicago Department of Transportation at the Stearns Quarry landfill, 740 N. Kilbourne Ave.

The reuse of this rubble and soil saved the city approximately $12,150 in disposal costs. The total savings between the city and other agencies involved was $115,350.

“We can save millions of dollars in the long run,” Malec-McKenna said.

As the DOE is not allowed to reuse rubble and soil, the IEPA carried out the above reuse example.

Reusing rubble and soil depends on several factors. First and foremost it cannot be contaminated.  The standards for determining contamination is a customized criteria created by the DOE in a joint effort with the IEPA. The criteria fits in accordance with the Illinois Pollution Control Board and closely resembles the Tiered Approach to Corrective Action Objectives, clean-up standards for possible contaminated sites, created by the IEPA.

“They’re not looking at all the tiers and all the exposure routes,” said Kimberly Janson, manager of environmental assessments for Mostardi Platt,  an environmental consulting group.

There are different contamination tiers for construction and residential standards, but the criteria the DOE established is a mixture of both.

“When they say, ‘Oh, we’re not above tier one,’ it’s really disingenuous to say because there are so many tier one standards, and they just picked one. But it might be above another [tier],” said Richard Trzupek, principal consultant for Mostardi Platt.

When creating the criteria, the DOE cut out tiers relating to groundwater pathways because reusable soil must be in a 1,000-foot setback zone of water wells, according to the ordinance, said Joyce Munie, remedial project manager of the IEPA.

The testing for contamination will be done by an accredited laboratory.  The testing samples will be no less than one sample per 1,000 cubic yards, a stringent guideline, Malec-McKenna said.

The testing can be completed in anywhere from 24 hours to two weeks; the cost per 1,000 cubic yards will average $1,500, she said.

The DOE will do oversight for the testing.

“The city will both be monitoring itself and the beneficiary of that monitoring,” Trzupek said. “I find that very disturbing; I don’t think the IEPA ever allow me that authority.”

The non-contaminated reusable rubble and soil can then only be utilized if covered by a road or building structure, sufficient soil to support vegetation and outside of a 1,000 foot setback zone of potable water supply wells.

To avoid future possible contamination and logistical difficulties, reusable rubble and soil will only be reused if an immediate project site can take it. If no project site within the city has available use for it, then it will be taken to a landfill or quarry.

The ordinance was met with diligent questions from the Chicago Committee of Energy that resulted in minor revisions commissioner Malec-McKenna was in agreement with.

A big concern among aldermen was the lack of aldermanic notification. The ordinance contains no provision that an alderman is to be notified if the reusable rubble and soil will be in their ward.

“The people in my ward will come to me saying there is this huge mound of dirt at so and so, and I will have no clue why,” said Ald. Ed Burke (14th ward) at the committee meeting.

If the revisions are made, the committee will move it forward for a vote by the council next month.