Excess Soils in Ontario: What You Need to Know

Posted by on May 24, 2019 in Blog | 0 comments

In our annual informal survey at CANECT, we asked those in attendance, “What is the most important environmental issue facing the regulated community?”  One of the common themes was keeping up with changing regulatory requirements.  Perhaps nothing exemplifies this frustration more (trying to keep up with and understand your obligations) than the issue of excess soil (policy/practices/regulation).

In 2016, we wrote an article in Environmental Science and Engineering (“How will Ontario’s proposed excess soil management policy work?”).  Much has changed in the subsequent years, including a new administration and a new proposed approach for handling excess soils.

Concern About Soil Dumping in Ontario

At issue is what to do with the excess soils that are a normal part of construction-related activity.  Assembling a regulatory framework to manage these excess soils such that it is protective of human health and the environment and, in the process, not overly burdensome has remained elusive.

The issue of excess soils is not insignificant, especially when you consider the development activity that continues to push the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) out further each year.  This development means more and more soil has to be safely relocated/reused/disposed.

In one instance, a farmer agreed to accept soil only to later find out that the soil was impacted with polyaromatic hydrocarbons and metals such as barium, cadmium, copper, and lead.  Recently, CBC News reported about soil dumping near Highway 5 in the Hamilton Area.  There have even been allegations that “soil brokers” are connected to organized crime.

Made In Ontario

How to best manage soils has been a festering issue for years.  With a new administration in Ontario, we now have a new proposed plan to address these excess soils.  The framework for the new approach is found in the “A Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan,” which includes:

  • “Recognize that excess soil is often a resource that can be reused. Set clear rules to allow industry to reduce construction costs, limit soil being sent to landfill and lower greenhouse gas emissions from trucking by supporting beneficial reuses of safe soils.”
  • “Work with municipalities, conservation authorities, other law enforcement agencies and stakeholders to increase enforcement on illegal dumping of excess soil.”

Excess Soils and Record of Site Condition

The official title of the bill is “Excess soil regulatory proposal and amendments to Record of Site Condition (Brownfields) Regulation.”  Some of the changes from the previous guidance for excess soils include:

  • Clarifying that excess soil is not a waste if appropriately and directly reused (must be dry);
  • Development of flexible, risk-based reuse of excess soil standards and soil characterization rules to provide greater clarity of environmental protection;
  • Removal of waste-related approvals for low-risk soil-management activities;
  • Improving safe and appropriate reuse of excess soil by requiring testing, tracking, and registration of soil movements for larger and riskier generating and receiving sites;
  • Flexibility for soil reuse through a Beneficial Reuse Assessment Tool to develop site-specific standards; there must be a beneficial reuse or soil cannot be deposited.
  • Landfill restrictions on deposit of clean soil (unless needed for cover).

Timetable for Implementation

The proposed regulation would clarify when waste-related Environmental Compliance Approvals (ECAs) are not required.  Generally, hauling excess soil would not require a waste ECA, but it would be subject to certain rules, including requiring a hauling record (electronic or paper) for all movements of excess soil.

The timetable for implementation for the regulations are as follows:

  • Excess soil provisions related to more-flexible reuse rules and waste designation and approvals would come into effect in January 2020.
  • Aspects of the excess soil regulation related to sound soil management actions  (e.g., characterization, tracking and registration) must be prepared or supervised by a qualified person and implemented by a project leader.  These requirements would come into effect no later than January 2021.
  • Restrictions on landfilling would come into effect in January 2022, allowing time to ensure alternate reuse approaches are available as needed.

Guidance and regulations aside, if you are routinely moving excess soils, you may want to consider developing your own policy to protect you, your company, and those who may be receiving soils from your sites.  We have managed many sites in Ontario that have generated hundreds of truckloads of soil.  If you need guidance or assistance, we can help you.

If you have questions or need assistance with soil management or other environmental issues, you can reach me at 519-979-7300, Ext 114.