Increasingly strict regulations and steep fines should be a wake-up call that dust control enforcement is not about to go away. Instead, it is going to continue to spread.
Consider Maricopa County, AZ, home to Phoenix and its surrounding metropolitan areas. According to Lang & Baker, a Scottsdale-based law firm, the county has repeatedly failed to reach attainment of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for airborne particulate matter. As a result, it had to adopt a plan to reduce emissions by 5% each year until it meets the standards, or face federal fines and the threat of losing $1 billion in federal highway funds.
The Maricopa County Air Quality Department (MCAQD) claims dust from unstable or disturbed surfaces is the largest contributor to the county's failure to meet federal standards. It asserts that 51% of all construction sites in the Phoenix Valley have committed dust control violations.
Predictably, the fines handed out to contractors are rising sharply. According to MCAQD, dust violations were responsible for half of the $3.7 million in air pollution fines levied in 2006. In 2007, the fines exceeded $5.3 million. This is partially due to increased enforcement.
"The number of inspectors jumped from eight to 81 in the last 18 months, and we expect that number to get bigger," says Michael Thal, Lang & Baker. "More inspectors allow for more inspections, more notices of violations and more fines."
A plan for prevention
Prevention is one of the best ways to avoid or mitigate dust control-related fines. "We try to focus contractors' attention on the practical ways to avoid dust control violations, and what to do when an inspector comes to the site," says Thal. "We also refer [contractors] to environmental consultants for help in developing a dust control plan, and to dust control equipment suppliers."
Contractors must first understand state and local dust control requirements. "Second, they must have a good dust control plan and make sure everyone on the jobsite understands it and follows it," says Thal. "If the inspector finds a violation, but believes that everyone is making a good-faith effort to enforce the contractor's plan, that by itself can reduce the fine."
There are several elements to a good dust
control plan. "In a nutshell, a dust control plan must address anything that will be done on the jobsite to comply with the rules, including such things as document storage and [logging of] maintenance; watering schedules and the amounts of water used; a description of the trackout devices used ? right down to how the contractor and subcontractor permits will be displayed," says Thal. "If it has anything to do with dust, it should be in the dust control plan."
Environmental consultants can help develop a sound plan. "A good environmental consultant can develop a specific plan that fits the contractor's operation," says Thal. "They also streamline the permitting process through their relationships with regulators, and by providing exhibits and calculations that [regulators] can rely on in approving the plan. Finally, since the plan is a dynamic document, the consultant can address changes quickly and limit the contractor's exposure."
By dynamic, Thal explains that the document needs to change to address jobsite changes, such as weather and the specific needs during different phases of construction.
"Specifically, a good dust control plan will include a schedule by which the environmental consultant performs the same testing that an inspector would," Thal says. "Testing generally measures opacity, stabilization, sieve analysis, etc."
Soil stabilization alternatives
Putting a dust control plan into action requires addressing the factors that generate dust. Since dust is created by disturbing unstable soil, this means finding methods to stabilize the loose soil around a site.