“Inerts” Weigh Heavy on Cities’ Minds
  by : J. Michael Huls
The hot button topic in AB 939 for many So Cal cities as we head into winter this year is "inerts." Inerts are solid inorganic materials such as soil, rock, concrete, and building materials containing no more than 1% putrescibles [Putrescibles are organic substances normally found in refuse such as food wastes and yard wastes, that can putrefy, in other words, biodegrade]. Inerts are derived primarily from construction and demolition (C&D) projects including public works activities, development and re-development, and road construction and repair. The reason that inerts are weighing heavy on many solid waste managers' minds is that about 1.5 million tons of inert debris are being reported at three mine reclamation sites located in the San Gabriel Valley (all in Irwindale) as disposed and originating from 174 jurisdictions from four counties in So Cal according to a data base obtained. Contractors who operate outside the traditional hauling industry are hauling much of this material.

What is problematic about this is that these three sites are the only ones out of 50 such mining sites in California that report C&D debris as disposed to the CIWMB. The reason they report is that they have solid waste disposal facility permits, so they are required by law to report any incoming tonnage used as fill as disposal tonnage. The other sites, which take in similar tonnage, do not report what they accept as waste.

The net result is that this disposal tonnage skews negatively the default diversion rates of many jurisdictions usually based on how close they are to the permitted sites. The inerts in question are often clean fill, rock, concrete, and other inerts that likely shouldn't even be classified as waste. The materials are used beneficially since the three permitted "landfills" are in reality mines required to reclaim the land with inert material. How did this situation develop? How does it impact cities? How can it be resolved?

This and much more was the focus of a morning workshop and lunch organized by the California Resource Recovery Association, the City of Arcadia, and GLASWMA, and held November 27th at the Pasadena Hilton Hotel. Representatives of the C&D debris industry, cities and counties, CIWMB, and consultants attended the workshop and offered insight on the issues involved.

The insight is that this a very complex issue that may not be solvable to everyone's liking. The issues discussed were this: 1) the regulation of inert sites; 2) the use of inerts as ADC and diverted material at inert disposal sites; 3) the necessity of reporting of inert disposal at mine reclamation sites; and, 4) the ongoing monitoring and regulation of mine reclamation sites. We can cover each of these below.

The regulation of inert sites - There are 50 mining sites (e.g., gravel pits, etc) operating in California regulated by the US Department of Interior (DOI). The DOI inspects these sites for the terms of their permits, to ensure that any pits or holes are being returned to natural grade. To do this mining sites are required to fill with inert materials. The mining operations have seen an opportunity to fill the pits with inert debris that is also accepted by regular landfills. The impetus for mining sites to accept C&D debris is that clean fill costs money while debris can be charged by load or ton, representing a source of income.
A concern of the CIWMB as voiced by local agencies has been that these mining sites are being filled with "wastes" in a generally unregulated manner. Concerns about organic wastes being disposed in such sites and the impact upon ground water have long been voiced and in fact probably led to the three sites in question being permitted early in the 90's.

For instance, one unpermitted pit in the Palos Verdes area last year was reported to have inappropriately accepted contaminated pavement from a military base reconstruction project that resulted in an extensive clean up and removal of the debris. The site did spot checks on the materials but only later found out about the contamination after much of the material was disposed. That site as well as all of the mining sites are unlined and not sited as disposal facilities. Is the PV site representative of all of the mining facilities?

It would appear that local agencies such as the San Gabriel Water Master were sufficiently concerned to issue requests for three sites in San Gabriel Valley to obtain Waste Discharge Permits in the late 1980s. While these permits are akin to CIWMB solid waste permits, they are not the same; but they do control the introduction of any organic materials whose decomposition could foul ground water. Following up on this, the Local Enforcement Agency, the LA County Department of Health, issued requests for all such pits in LA County to obtain solid waste permits. Only the three sites located in Irwindale, i.e., Peck Road, Reliance Pit No. 2, and Nu-Way Landfill, obtained permits as solid waste facilities around 1991-92. At that time, no one could foresee the reporting nightmare created when only three out of 50 sites were permitted as disposal sites.

At the Pasadena workshop, the CIWMB representatives asserted the responsibility of the sites under existing law to report disposal tonnage under the AB 2494 Disposal Reporting System or DRS. The issue at this juncture is whether such debris represents disposal. Representatives at the workshop made their point that the material is used in a beneficial manner, to reclaim the site for building purposes. The CIWMB has scheduled public hearing concerning proposed regulations on all inert sites that would bring them into the regulatory tier system.

In December 2000, the Board approved a two-phase approach to re-establishing this rulemaking. Phase I will cover the transfer and processing of construction, demolition, and inert debris. Phase II will follow and will cover the disposal of construction, demolition, and inert debris. According to the Initial Statement of Reasons published by the CIWMB on its web site,

"On March 1, 1995 the Office of Administrative Law approved the Board's regulatory tier regulations establishing a tiered permitting structure for all solid waste operations. These regulations established a new, flexible framework for regulatory oversight by the Board for a wide range of solid waste operations and facilities. The tiers allow for a level of regulatory oversight that is commensurate with the potential impact that the operation or facility might pose to public health, safety, and the environment."

"The three upper tiers are all solid waste facilities permits, whereas the lower two tiers regulate types of operations which may not constitute solid waste facilities and which will not be required to obtain a solid waste facility permit. These regulations did not place any solid waste operation into a tier."

A key provision lies within the definitions,

"Subsection (i) defines an 'inert waste landfill' and is necessary to make clear what qualifies as an inert waste landfill for purposes of regulation in order to recognize the lesser environmental threat of these materials and this type of facility. The definition also distinguishes this type of activity from other types of disposal and from operations and facilities that handle similar materials, e.g., mine reclamation projects or engineered inert fills."

Does this bode well for the future deregulation of the three mining sites that have current permits as inert disposal sites? That is not clear, and should be a point of question in future public hearings.

Inerts for beneficial usage and ADC - Since 1995, the inert sites have reported million of tons as disposed with a smaller amount being reported as diverted/salvaged i.e., beneficially used. Often, this happens as in the case of one site, where they crush materials and resell them for construction. The CIWMB has already ruled in base year adjustments that such reuse is countable toward the AB 939 mandate just so long as it meets the test of restricted waste as mandated by AB 2494 [Restricted wastes rules can be found on the CIWMB website at].

The three sites have reported diverted/ salvaged tonnage since 1995, but midyear 2000 they changed the designated end use, substituting alternative daily cover (ADC) for diverted/salvaged. In some cases, this resulted in "diversion" of upwards of 80% of the incoming materials according to the CIWMB representatives. It is important to note that diverted/salvaged tonnage was not reported to the CIWMB.

When the inert sites began reporting up to 80% of incoming inerts as ADC in mid 2000, the CIWMB took notice. The sites claimed that inert material was used to cover inert material similar to the process performed at sanitary landfills to cover putrescibles to control odors and vectors. The CIWMB rejected this new reporting scheme, and instead ordered the sites to reallocate the tonnage as disposal. This raises the above-reported inert tonnage significantly severely impacting diversion rates for many cities for the year 2000.
A related problem is that this revision came after many jurisdictions had already submitted their 2000 AB 939 annual reports.

If we ignore the recent aberration of counting inerts as ADC, the premise still stands that inerts are used in a beneficial manner to reclaim land for future development. This is very different end use from sanitary landfills that normally do not see any major development due to the presence of gases, leachate, and differential settling.

One former "disposal" site in Irwindale is now developed into a regional industrial center. This would not have been possible for a typical sanitary landfill, which must go through a vigorous closure process and where end uses must be less development intensive such as trailer parks, small retail developments, and recreational facilities. [If anyone wants to view a completed sanitary landfill, visit Alpine Village in Carson, along the Harbor Freeway.]

The issue remains that inerts are being used beneficially at 50 sites throughout California but only three report their received materials as disposed tonnage.

The necessity of reporting of inert disposal at mine reclamation sites - No reporting is conducted at 47 out of 50 mine reclamation sites. However, these sites do not have solid waste facility permits. The simple fact remains that so long as the three facilities have solid waste permits, they will be required to report their fill as disposal tonnage regardless of how beneficial its usage might be. The flip side is that proposed permitting of all mine reclamation sites, a situation that the mining site operator representative stated they welcomed, would bring all 50 sites into the reporting universe of the DRS.

Since we know that the three currently permitted sites handle 1.5 million tons, then we could assume that the other 47 handle similar levels. At ½ million tons per site, the 50 sites would create a new annual disposal stream of 25 million tons potentially. This could have a devastating impact upon jurisdictions' abilities to meet AB 939's 50% diversion mandate as we can show in the following example.

One city near a mine reclamation site that does not have a solid waste permit found out recently that they have inert materials being "disposed" at the site. If they added the inert tonnage at this site originating from their jurisdiction to the DRS, it would triple their annual waste disposal quantity. This jurisdiction would likely never be able to meet the 50% mandate if this site were permitted as solid waste disposal facilities.

Obviously, this type of impact could occur across California if all inert sites must get solid waste permits unless some provision is made to exclude the inert tonnage from the DRS prior to enactment of proposed regulations. This could be done if the practice is defined as a beneficial usage, thereby removing the tonnage from the disposal ledger.

The ongoing monitoring and regulation of inert disposal sites - The CIWMB and participants at the Workshop all made it clear that there might be justification for CIWMB oversight on inert sites. No one is supportive of any facility or practice that attempts to circumvent the law regarding proper disposal, potentially endangering human health and the environment.

However, does the CIWMB need to promulgate regulations bringing mine reclamation sites into the solid waste disposal facility permitting universe?
Is there not sufficient enforcement and regulatory authority on the part of the CIWMB to adequately address wayward mine reclamation facilities as nuisance dumps or practicing disposal without a permit? For instance, how do we regulate recycling facilities?

A key aspect of the workshop happened late in the meeting when the conversation turned to audience participation. A Water Master of the San Gabriel Valley attended and was asked why the three inert mine reclamation sites were given permits. The Water Master replied that he was not aware of any solid waste permits, that his agency did not issue any orders for the sites to get permits, but only that mining sites need and receive waste discharge permits that essentially ban the acceptance of any organic matter. It was later learned that the LEA, Los Angeles County Department of Health, had issued solid waste permits to the three sites, and in fact had requested all such facilities in LA County to obtain a permit; but that most did not respond to the request.

The CIWMB will be holding C&D Inert Debris Workshops on Thursday, December 13, 2001 at the South Coast Air Quality Management District Building in Diamond Bar, Room GB, 21865 E. Copley Drive (The Government Building). Phase I Processing Operations and Facilities regulations will be discussed from 10:00 am to 12:30 pm while Disposal Facilities and Mine Reclamation Sites will be addressed from 1:30 pm until 4:30 pm. Readers are urged to attend or to stay turned to the Overview for further information.