CONSTRUCTION & DEMOLITION: Proposed Lead Ruling Weighs Heavy on C&D Landfills

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Washington, D.C., wants to make it safer, easier and cheaper for construction and demolition (C&D) contractors and other debris handlers to dispose of their lead-based paint (LBP) materials. Consequently, the EPA has proposed a ruling that mandates C&D landfills, hazardous waste centers or specially equipped incinerators as disposal options.

To expedite and encourage material removal to prevent children from developing illnesses that can result from ingesting lead, the ruling also proposes that:

*LBP debris at least must be in a tarped truck or storage container to prevent lead leaks during storage and transport;

*LBP material must not be piled for more than three days at demolition sites;

*C&D landfills must have stringent access restrictions to their grounds or be in rural areas where such controls are not necessary; and

*Incinerators that process LBP debris into boiler fuel be equipped with strict air emission controls.

Many basic C&D materials, such as wood, gypsum and concrete, that currently are used for mulch and road base material also would be curtailed or banned from manufacture. But this does not include building metals, which are said to pose minimal lead exposure threats during reuse.

What the EPA has overlooked, however, is that C&D recycling centers and municipal solid waste (MSW) landfills are viable disposal options.

The EPA has chosen C&D landfills because lead does not leach at a significant rate, so it safely can be disposed of there. C&D landfills also typically have lower tipping fees than recycling centers, MSW landfills and other disposal options.

Not surprisingly, industry response to the ruling largely has been negative. C&D recyclers and MSW operators, many of whom have been handling LBP debris for years, are surprised they have been omitted. They further point out that LBP debris can be difficult to identify.

Debris from buildings constructed prior to 1978 are suspected of containing LBP. However, the EPA acknowledges that determining the LBP toxicity level in a pile of building debris can be difficult because of the materials' bulkiness. It is common for the Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure (TCLP) that is used to determine material composition, to vary. For example, TCLP may show a zero-lead reading in one sample, while another sample taken from a different spot in the same pile may be over the regulatory limit.

The EPA also acknowledges that it can be difficult to determine whether building debris is from pre- or post-1978 structures. To compensate for the inadequacies of the TCLP, the proposed rule, placed in the "Federal Register" on Dec. 18, 1998, states that the EPA eventually would like all building demolition debris, regardless of when the building was built, to be regulated under the Toxic Substances Control Act, instead of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act that currently regulates it. This would affect the demolition portion - approximately half of the 136 million tons - of building debris the EPA estimates is generated every year in the United States.

The Solid Waste Association of North America, Silver Spring, Md., and other associations, such as the Construction Materials Recycling Association, Lisle, Ill., have voiced concerns about the proposed ruling.

Tova Spector, the EPA ruling's project manager, says he is eager to review the comments he has received from the industry. The comment period ended April 2, 1999. A final ruling is expected in 2000, with implementation two years later.