Illinois engineers and public works agencies are understandably leery of a law that allows only uncontaminated soil to be deposited into clean construction and demolition debris (CCDD) fills, which unlike landfills are unlined.

Similar to but more extensive than laws in Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin, Public Act 96-1416 is designed to ensure carcinogens don't leach into groundwater. Fill owners must get a signed certificate from the demolition site's owner that soil isn't from a former commercial or industrial operation or, if it is, that a licensed professional engineer certify it's no longer contaminated.

My sources suspect the language is the brainchild of the state's 50 or so fills, mostly old quarries and mines, to limit potential liability in the event of future groundwater contamination. Illinois EPA Field Operations Manager Paul Purseglove says the requirement merely applies to CCDD generators the same burden of proof required of other generators of hazardous waste.

Be that as it may or may not, the public sector is bearing the brunt. Signed just days before going into effect July 30, the requirement threw a financial and scheduling wrench into construction season:

  • Fills are rejecting loads that arrive without proper documentation, requiring owners to reroute debris to more expensive landfills.
  • Public agencies that inspect debris are allowed to charge up to 10 cents/cubic yard or 7 cents/ton. But that probably won't cover the cost of "sniffers": portable photoionization detectors (PIDs), flame ionization detectors, and other expensive high-tech equipment that detects the presence of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), metals, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
  • Though the requirement provides guidance on accepted levels of contaminants, it's up to the engineer to decide what sampling and test protocols to use for confirmation. So, to limit their potential liability, consulting firms are ordering soil samples every 300 to 500 feet. Such practices inevitably push project costs beyond estimates.
  • I'm not saying that keeping toxins out of drinking water sources isn't a worthy goal. I just wonder if the average taxpayer would understand how well this example illustrates the challenge of balancing "wise investment of taxpayer dollars" with taxpayer-required regulatory mandates.

    E-mail sjohnston@hanleywood.com with your take on the matter.