Approximately 250 environmental professionals involved in the remediation sector recently gathered at the Lionhead Golf Club & Conference Centre in Mississauga for this year’s Toronto edition of the Smart Methods in Advanced Remediation Technologies (SMART) technical learning seminars.

Since 2011, SMART has been presented by Vertex Environmental with the goal to enhance the collective understanding of cutting-edge characterization and remediation technologies.

Bruce Tunnicliffe, president of Vertex Environmental, kicked off the event by imploring attendees to make the most of the day, to lean into the presentations and interactions during the breaks. He also took the time to appreciate perennial attendees with five year and 10 year rewards. 

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Melissa Tran of ALS and Brayden Ford of ERIS were pleased to receive their Five Year Reward pens. (Credit: LinkedIn/Brayden Ford)

Several technical presentations were provided on regulatory, management, redevelopment and hazardous contaminant issues, innovative soil management technology, PFAS removal and destruction, mitigation methods, legal risk and liability, as well as policy updates and insight into opportunities in the industry.

A presentation from the Public Procurement and Services Canada provided an update on the Federal Contaminated Sites Action Plan and revealed that there’s $35.1 million budgeted for assessment and $1.2 billion for remediation, risk management and long-term monitoring until 2025.

Another presentation, by Sajid Alimohamed from QM Environmental discussed soil management technology at the massive, multi-phase Toronto Portlands project. “Digital tracking includes, at a minimum, time-stamped criteria for each truck used to move soil or debris material from or within the excavation of source material from the excavation area.”

According to Alimohamed, the project required a system that would allow for tracking to the final fill destination; an integrated and innovative system based on technologies available. Four components make up the tracking tech: grade control (a GPS that tracks in real time); a database and web app (stored environmental data and geotechnical data and approvals); a tracker for all soil movements; and, analyzation of progress through drones and surveys (progress surveys and time lapse capture).

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Panel on excess soils management

The mid-day panel on Ontario Excess Soils Management featured a compelling conversation about how to manage the reportedly over 26 million m3 of excess soil that is generated annually in Ontario. Panelists included: Chris Lompart of the Ontario Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks; Grant Walsom of XCG Consulting Limited; Freesia Waxman of Grounded Engineering Inc; and, Chad Van Horsigh of Condrain.

On December 4, 2019 Ontario Regulation 406/19 was adopted under the Environmental Protection Act for On-Site and Excess Soil Management. The consultation for proposed regulatory amendments to encourage greater reuse of excess soil closed on December 1, 2023. Decisions on those are still outstanding.

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From left to right: Bruce Tunnicliffe of Vertex Environmental; Chris Lompart of the Ontario Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks; Freesia Waxman of Grounded Engineering Inc; Grant Walsom of XCG Consulting Limited; and, Chad Van Horsigh of Condrain. 

“Illegal dumping was a major driver of this regulation, which is far more enforceable than what was in place before it,” said Lompart. “This regulation provides a framework for moving soils around. You can argue about whether it’s too stringent or not but at least it provides a framework.”

He also explained how the framework encourages the reuse of soils onsite or locally, which provides many environmental benefits, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions due to truck hauling and reducing disposal to landfills. There are requirements regarding reuse sites and other details regarding the framework that require careful attention to detail.

With that in mind, Waxman, a member of the Qualified Persons Community of Ontario, questioned the crowd: “If you have a QP, do they know this excess soil regulation inside and out? It’s an evolving regulation so it’s important to keep up with amendments and updates, and all the nuances.”

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She advised that QPs should be aware of exemptions that may be applicable to a particular project, planning requirements, variables with regard to onsite versus offsite movement, and more. “As a QP, it’s my responsibility to guide clients through all of the environmental aspects of a project and that means asking what else? Often, that includes excess soils.”

Waxman warned against having tunnel vision or head in the sand approach to project planning and waiting too long to hire a QP. According to Waxman, early engagement is critical to the success of a project.

Walsom, also a QP, focused on a different aspect of the standards and their application to the industry. He noted the conservative nature of the new standard and of difficulties with regard to reuse. “I think we’ve all come across issues,” said Walsom, who referenced, for example, petroleum hydrocarbons that are sometimes naturally occurring in shale materials. “So instead of sending less material to landfill, we’re actually sending a lot more.”

He called for clarification to address challenging aspects of the standard and to improve opportunities for beneficial reuse. Walsom also suggested that a P3 model for depots would reduce the need for virgin aggregates on certain projects.

Additionally, he compelled the ministry to think about legal enforcement of the regulation. “Let’s get on with it and look into enforcement. The industry will get up to speed very quickly if fines, charges and reputation is at stake,” said Walsom.

Representing the contractor side of the table, Van Horsigh shared his experiences working on major remediation projects. The Condrain Group currently has over 500 employees and a large fleet of equipment to service the Greater Toronto Area and the rest of Ontario. He discussed the evolution of services and how much has changed in terms of tracking excess soils.

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“Before the regulation of excess soils it was pretty awesome,” he joked. “We took the dirt from there and brought it over here. We didn’t have to worry about approvals too much. There were lots of disposal options on the market. It was great living for cowboys, but those days are over.” He also recalled that the carbon footprint was huge and there was a lot of confusion.

“Now, we can actually track where the soil is coming from. We’re working with QPs to understand what we’re getting and we’re not getting garbage, and we’re able to move things faster. Yet, our approvals are a lot slower and more expensive. So, there’s a trade off here.”

Van Horsigh also noted the need for more Class 1 sites to allow project teams to meet construction demands more readily. “We’re all handcuffed right now due to certain criteria and classifications.”

Major sponsors of the event included: Chemco Environment (platinum), ALS (gold), and Willms & Shier Environmental Lawyers LLP (silver). The bronze sponsors included: AST Environmental Inc., Blue Frog Environmental Consulting Inc., Brenntag, Bureau Veritas, DICORP, ERIS, Government of Canada, Hoskin Scientific, IPEX, KGS Environmental Group, Maxim, NexxGen Environmental, Pine, Pontil Drilling, QM Environmental, SGS, SiREM, Spectra Scientific, and Strata Drilling Group.

The Ottawa edition of SMART will be presented on February 8. For further information, visit www.smartremediation.com

Featured image: The Port Lands Flood Protection Project, which required years of carefully coordinated remediation work, created a new mouth for the Don River in the middle of the Port Lands between the Ship Channel and the Keating Channel, as well as the foundations of a new urban island, Villiers Island. (Credit: Waterfront Toronto)

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