Preventing water pollution on construction sites

2 Sep 2015

Why is water pollution such a big issue on construction sites?

There are many ways in which polluted water crops up on construction sites. For instance, problems arise with the excavation of basements, stripping of topsoil and the construction of foundations. There’s also lots of potential for water pollution when brownfield sites are developed – from things such as disused storage tanks, contaminated ground and groundwater or disused mines.

However, the three most common problem areas arise from the disposal of silty water, oil contamination and the treatment and safe discharge of high pH water.

Can you give some practical examples?

Fine grained soils when mixed with water can form a slurry which can easily be washed off construction sites and into nearby drains and watercourses. These sediment-laden waters may appear harmless – but they are not. Released into the water course, they can kill fish and affect other users such as farmers industry and drinking water abstractions.

High pH waters are also easily generated on site – just think of the water involved when truck mixer chutes on concrete delivery lorries are washed.

Isn’t it simply a matter of diluting such polluted waters down?

No – that’s a common misconception. It actually takes 100,000 litres of water to dilute just one litre of pH 12 concrete wash water to get it back to pH7.

Given the cost of water, that’s obviously not an option. Similarly, just one teaspoon of clay is sufficient to make take bath full of water out of consent for most surface water discharge permits!

Why don’t people on construction sites know more about this?

A key problem is that on most construction sites, day-to-day responsibility for preventing water pollution is shouldered by the site engineer, who has to juggle this along with all the other responsibilities associated with getting a project completed on time and to budget.

It’s easy to see how staying abreast of latest water pollution thinking falls down the priority list – especially as polluted water often looks clean.

Yet the potential fines if companies get this wrong have increased haven’t they?

Absolutely, construction companies now face massively increased fines for breaching Environmental Legislation thanks to new sentencing guidelines introduced last year. That’s why the need for our training has never been greater.

OK, so what does your course Pollution on Construction Sites training involve and how long does it run for?

There are actually two different courses. Environmental Professionals Course is our original, two-day CPDtraining course and is aimed at environmental advisors and engineers.

While our Practical Pollution Awareness Course is a one-day course aimed at site managers and management trainees covering practical solutions to day-to-day pollution sources.

They provide site staff with a basic understanding of everything they need to know, including a brief introduction to the law, planning works to avoid water pollution, estimating the volume of water from rainfall events and groundwater inflow through to how best to handle silty water, oil contamination and high pH concrete washwater. All the key scenarios that might crop up on a typical site are covered.

The courses are being run at locations around the UK so are accessible to everyone. Plus, for companies that have more than ten people interested in attending, we will deliver a tailored course at a company’s premises.

In your opinion, what do the courses offer to the industry that’s new?

The courses cover the very latest legislation, technical know-how and thinking. No other course is as up to date. Also, importantly, they are very interactive and feature real-world practical examples – so that attendees can learn from what’s happened on other construction sites.

“The course provides practical advice which people can go away and instantly apply – whether you have four or 40 years’ experience, there was still something new to learn.” Mike Summersgill, President ofCIWEM (Chartered Institute of Waste Management).

Why do you think this is so valuable to the construction industry?

Construction companies for the most part want to do the right thing. They don’t want to be polluters and want to preserve both the environment and their reputations.

They also want to develop their people and we’re providing an easy and meaningful way for them to do this.

Furthermore, at a practical business level, environmental performance is often a factor that’s considered in project bids and tenders.

Lastly, the new sentencing guidelines mean that construction companies cannot afford to overlook water pollution.

Sentencing for environmental breaches is now more stringent, with potentially crippling fines of up to £3M (and beyond) a real possibility.

For instance, a court recently noted that if a company guilty of the highest level of environmental harm has deliberately been neglectful, thinking it’s easier to risk a fine than to invest in improving their operations, it may well face a fine equal to up to 100% of the company’s pre-tax profit for the year in question – even if this results in fines in excess of £100M!

OK, we’re convinced. So where should people go to find out more?

To find out more about the courses including all the dates and venues click here.