Pollution in the Demolition Industry

By Erik K. Lauritzen
August 2001

The Author is the Managing Director of DEMEX Consulting Engineers in Copenhagen, Denmark.


1. Introduction

Today the demolition industry spends a lot of effort and money on environmental protection due to international standards, European directives and national laws on environmental management, for instance the ISO 14000-series, the EMAS directive, and the British Standard BS 7750 "Specification for Environmental Management Systems".

A major part of any demolition contract must be concentrated on the control of the different types of pollution.

In this presentation, I would like to offer an overall view on the pollution problems that the demolition contractor has to take into consideration during the demolition work and how to solve or control these problems.

According to the British Standard BS 7750 pollution or environmental effects can be listed as follows:

2. Emissions to atmosphere

With regard to emissions to the atmosphere, we usually consider SO2, NOx and CO2 in relation to the global pollution of the atmosphere. It is appreciated that this is not a major problem to the demolition contractor. However, he can contribute to the control of air pollution by attempting to limit polluting exhaust from his machines and trucks as much as possible. In many EU countries special regulations are given to the exhaust of vehicles and machines.

Some years ago it was common that the demolition contractor burned wood and other inflammable materials on site. Owing to strict control of incineration, many countries have today banned open incineration on demolition sites. Besides the pollution of the smoke and dust from open fires, it should be underlined that much wood and inflammable materials contain a lot of hazardous chemical substances from paint, waterproofing and other covering substances, these being harmful to the atmosphere.

3. Discharges to groundwater

In many EU countries the stock of underground drinking water is very scarce. Therefore, the public authorities are very concerned about the risk of pollution of groundwater caused by industry and construction work.

Demolition work might pollute the groundwater because of the following reasons:

Generally, pollution of open water and drinking water wells can be avoided by appropriate performance of the demolition work and handling of C&D waste. However, it is important that the building owner specifies his requirements and supplies to the demolition contractor with the necessary information on sensitive water sources etc.

Generally, C&D waste is considered to be completely harmless waste material. However, within the last few years it has been realised that C&D waste contains numerous different materials, of which a number are very harmful to the environment. Several countries, e.g. USA, England, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands are now very attentive to the fact that mixed C&D waste may cause pollution of the groundwater from leaching.

In the Netherlands, the Building Materials Decree, which became effective on 1 July 1998, sets regulations under which building materials may be applied in or on the soil or in the surface water in a safe and justified manner.

4. Contamination of land

Besides discharging to water, the tipping of C&D waste at unapproved landfills or randomly chosen sites causes contamination, which may prevent future use of the land. In the case of C&D waste containing reinforced concrete elements it should be realised that the C&D waste will not disappear, but will remain forever.

5. Solid waste

According to the EU waste directives, all materials generated from construction or demolition work must be considered as waste, regardless of the possibilities of reuse or recycling. The main part of C&D waste normally consists of concrete and bricks. In Europe we estimate that 80-90% of all C&D waste is of the brick/concrete fraction, which is recyclable and may be used as a substitute for natural stone and gravel resources.

The remaining fractions contain mainly wood, timber, metals, insulation materials etc., which have to be treated in accordance with local authority regulations. In most demolition jobs some asbestos is found. However, all members of the EDA are very familiar with the technology for the investigation and removal of asbestos. The problem of lead paint has also been described in an EDA report written in 1984. In the last few years new hazardous materials have been found in buildings, such as PCB in joint filling material, insulation materials and different types of fungi. Some of the fungi need special treatment, owing to risk to humans. In recent years several public buildings in Denmark, e.g. schools, had to be demolished owing to attack by a mould-type fungus, resulting from insufficient maintenance, heating and ventilation. The contaminated parts of the buildings are treated similarly to asbestos-contaminated materials. I guess that this problem has also been discovered in other member countries.

Another special problem is the large number of chemical industries that have not been aware of the risk of polluting bricks with oil and chemicals. Effective methods of separating the uncontaminated concrete and bricks from the contaminated concrete and bricks have not yet been developed. Therefore, the treatment of this type of waste material is a problem in most countries.

According to the "the polluter pays" principle mentioned in the EC Council Directive of 18 March 1991 75/442/EEC on waste, the building owner has the overall responsibility for the correct treatment of all kinds of waste, including hazardous waste materials. The demolition contractor is responsible for complying with the rules and regulations, job description and the building owner's instructions. Normally the demolition contractor makes reservations concerning hidden and/or unexpected hazardous wastes.

6. Other emissions

7. Control of pollution and emissions

In former times demolition work was characterised as a very polluting work. Today many of the pollution activities might be controlled. The modern demolition contractor has no interest in the polluting image - he aspires to the green image.

Referring to the EC report, C&D Waste Project, many actions and recommendations related to the pollution from demolition work and the quality assurance of demolition work are given. It is recommended that European standards and codes of practice of demolition should be prepared within the frame of CEN/CENELEC.

In order to raise the reputation of European demolition contractors, it is necessary that the individual EDA member country prepares its own codes of good practice and environmental management systems. The philosophy of quality assurance according to the ISO 9000-series and environmental management according to BS 7750 is basically that the individual demolition contractor governs his work himself. He is not waiting for control by the authorities or others. He prepares documentation to comply with the specification of the contract, and he controls his emissions and provides the client with documentation for the emissions that are acceptable. In principle we are talking about certification of the demolition work.

Some EDA member countries have already made arrangements of certification or similar. For instance, the Danish Demolition Association entered an appointment with the Danish Minister for the Environment and Energy in November 1996 on environmental control, following a set of specified procedures and control schemes. I know that BABEX in the Netherlands has prepared National Assessment Guidelines and Britain has long had a Code of Practice for Demolition, which was revised a few years ago.

Owing to the many individual national conditions in the EDA member countries it might be too early to start work on an EDA Code of Practice for Demolition. However, I recommend that we start thinking about the content of such a standard.

I would like to conclude my presentation with the suggestion that we should consider the control of pollution and emissions as a very suitable issue for a European Demolition Standard.



Copyright © 2001, ECO Services International