Dem-Con Cos. LLC, Shakopee, Minn., is a third generation company that has devoted future business development to the recycling divisions of our business. As we looked into future opportunities, we assumed our challenges would relate mostly to the end market creation for materials we are recovering from a material stream that has been historically landfilled.
While end markets are still of utmost importance, one facet that we significantly underestimated is the regulatory and rulemaking processes that we are required to monitor and often provide counterpoints and comments to a well-intentioned rule. Significant time is required to review proposed rules, research the data and meet with local as well as federal rule makers to educate and provide evidence that the materials we are recovering are valuable and safe and provide environmental benefits.
As a recycler, we know firsthand that without end markets, the recovery process is futile. We can recover, separate, screen, crush, grind and transport almost anything, but without end markets, we would end up with multiple piles of separated materials with nowhere for it to go. To keep our business viable, it requires significant time and resources to build end markets; to our surprise, it takes just as much effort to keep our existing markets viable.
Recently, it seems there is an influx of rulemaking processes that would impact our current way of doing business. This article provides an update on two proposed rules that are in progress and will affect the way we all currently operate. We have spent significant time and resources on dealing with regulation and proving that recovered materials from the C&D material stream are valuable resources that have a much better end-of-life option than a landfill. It seems that we are now working harder to keep our markets than we did to initially establish them. We all need to work together to ensure the three-legged stool of the environment, economics and social responsibility remain in harmony. When any one of these legs is missing or too dominant, we are setting ourselves up for failure.
Non-Hazardous Secondary Materials Rule
For the last few years, the Construction & Demolition Recycling Association (CDRA) has been working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on the Non-Hazardous Secondary Materials Rule (NHSM). This rule’s intent was to differentiate the materials that are flowing to a waste combustor and nonwaste combustor facility by clarifying whether the materials accepted by a facility are a solid waste. At our facility, we see large amounts of wood materials on a daily basis. We recover large amounts of wood, and, though markets across the country differ, one fact remains constant: We all produce a lot of wood materials from demolition and construction activities.
Some end markets may include landscape mulch, erosion control media or supplying fuel for biomass power plants. Being a fuel supplier to biomass power plants with C&D wood, our business has been at risk from the NHSM rulemaking process. The key factor in this process is determining whether the wood generated in our C&D processes meets the EPA “legitimacy criteria.” There were multiple criteria the materials must have met in the rule, and our C&D products met the “legitimacy criteria.” To meet this criteria, the wood we process and deliver must be handled as a valuable commodity, have a meaningful heating value and contain contaminant levels equal to or lower than a traditional fuel.
Based on those three requirements, the first two criteria were easily met, and determining the contaminant levels needed data to prove it was a safe material. The CDRA membership from various locations around the United States worked together and followed a very structured wood sampling protocol supplied by Koogler & Associates, Gainesville, Fla., to have summarized data for an EPA review.
The summarized data confirmed the industry’s assumptions that the recovered wood was a safe and clean source of fuel. I spent a day in Washington, D.C., with CDRA Executive Director Bill Turley, along with our end-market partners at the Biomass Power Association (BPA) in a meeting with top EPA staff to discuss the data results and to explain the processing that occurs at C&D recycling plants to show C&D recovered wood should be given a categorical exemption from being labeled a solid waste.
In addition, a CDRA member, Kevin Herb from Broad Run Recycling in Manassas, Va., opened his facility for a tour for EPA rule makers to provide hands-on education of the processing of wood at C&D material recovery facilities (MRFs). The data and site visit were paramount in making strides in keeping this material end market as a fuel open and available. The current status of the rulemaking process is in the final stages, and late in 2013 we expect the final rule with favorable results for our industry.
Crystalline Silica Rule
The newest rule release that C&D recyclers should be aware of is the Crystalline Silica Rule. The Federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has released its proposal to lower worker exposure to crystalline silica. There are two standards, one for general industry and one for the construction industry.
The rule proposes new exposure limits (50 micrograms per metric ton) nearly one-half of the current permissible exposure limit (PEL) for general industry and one-fifth of the PEL for construction. These new thresholds would replace nearly 40-year-old PELs. Although the exposure limit reductions are significant, there is a set action level at one-half of the proposed PEL, which may be difficult to adhere to within the framework of our existing operations.
The proposed rule also includes provisions for measuring the exposure amounts of silica, limiting worker access to areas where silica exposures are high, using effective methods for reducing exposure, providing medical exams for workers with high exposures and training workers about silica-related hazards. Crystalline silica dust is formed when brick, concrete, stone and other stone products are crushed, cut or sawn or when silica is used as a sandblast media. It also can be generated from mining operations. Many C&D recyclers crush concrete and other aggregates, and this rule likely will affect operating procedures.
OSHA says it believes the new proposed rule would prevent more than 700 deaths and 1,600 new cases of silicosis per year. OSHA reports “the inhalation of very small crystalline silica particles puts workers at risk of silicosis, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and kidney disease.”
With any new rule proposal, our industry will need to examine the new rule and determine the reasonableness of the new thresholds, the data that support the new reduced PEL limits and how our industry will adapt to this rule should it be approved in its current state.
This proposed rule likely would impact how demolition and construction activities are performed and result in new procedures and protocols for crushing aggregate materials. The likelihood of increased personal protective equipment (PPE) and increased use of dust control methods is highly probable if this rule is passed in its current form.
The CDRA is part of a coalition of construction industry associations that have joined together to provide a response to OSHA. Industry has asked for more time from OSHA to comment on this rule. Stay tuned.
More Work Ahead
Although I only cited two examples of current rulemaking processes, other issues the CDRA is working on are ongoing. Many are at the state and even local level as many governmental entities look to improve C&D recycling rates.
It takes all of us as an industry to continue to work on building and protecting our markets to preserve our operations and our ability to recover high percentages of the C&D material stream.
Without the end markets for wood, crushed aggregates, fiber, metals, etc., we would not have a C&D recycling industry, which has grown significantly over the last decade and provides a valuable environmental benefit. We can agree that the environment and human health must be protected, and it takes us all to work together to form a stable platform for our industry to work from for many years to come.
The author is CEO of Dem-Con Cos. LLC, Shakopee, Minn., and vice president of the Construction and Demolition Recycling Association (CDRA).