HAIL Environmental: Winner of the 2020 ALGA Sustainable Remediation Project Award | ALGA
Building leaders in the sustainable management of contaminated land and groundwater

HAIL Environmental: Winner of the 2020 ALGA Sustainable Remediation Project Award
Interview with Brendon Love (CEnvP-SC, Contaminated Site Specialist, Director at HAIL Environmental).

1. Since HAIL Environmental was awarded the winner in 2020 of ALGA's Sustainable Remediation Project Award, have you undertaken any further sustainable remediation projects?

We have succeeded in implementing sustainable remediation practices on several projects over the last few years. Our philosophy is aligned with central government policy to minimise waste and contaminated soil going to landfills. At present we are working alongside regulators and contractors in the disaster recovery space in Hawkes Bay trying to find sustainable ways to manage the vast amount of waste and contaminated silt deposited by Cyclone Gabrielle within industrial areas. Another project we have recently been working on with HEB Construction Ltd (HEB) is undertaking a major redevelopment of the 4-hectare KiwiRail Waltham Rail Yard in Christchurch. HAIL Environmental conducted investigations throughout the site and assisted KiwiRail in obtaining a resource consent to re-use a large quantity of the excavated material between the tracks, rails and sleepers. Re-use of ~8000t of fill was calculated to save KiwiRail over $2 Million in disposal and associated transportation costs, the ability to keep over 400 truck and trailer heavy vehicles off the roads, and to avoid the importation of 8000t of clean fill. The project won the 2023 HEB Circular Economy (Reduce/Reuse/Recycle) of Construction Materials award and was a finalist in the WasteMINZ Conference, Expo + Workshop Awards for Excellence in the contaminated land management category. Ongoing sustainable management approaches include investigations to retain excavated fill onsite through reuse between the tracks and rails per the conditions of the consent.

2. With SustRem coming to Melbourne this year to join forces with ALGA's ecoforum - what areas of Sustainability do you hope are given focus and why?

I hope that there is some discussion on how knowledge sharing can help influence policy and changes to regulations that result in sustainable outcomes associated with contaminated land. At present I think the industry is ready and trying to push ahead with more sustainable solutions but coming up against regulatory barriers. In Aotearoa we have our Central Government saying the right things, but it takes years for these messages to filter down to regional or central government levels where they can be implemented. Regulation in this space needs to adapt quicker and be more willing to accept that change is necessary.

3. What are some of the biggest challenges facing sustainability efforts in our industry, and how can they be addressed?

New Zealand has a long history of landfilling contaminated soils. There are many reasons for this. Initially it was driven by cost. Now regulators view it as the tangible, well understood, easy to regulate, quick, go-to remediation option even as the disposal costs have risen dramatically. We find that in some of our operating regions, best practice sustainable solutions are not gaining the traction needed. Onerous requirements for consenting, engineering, and monitoring are often clear barriers for a more sustainable approach. To overcome this, I believe we need to provide training that helps promote the benefits, overcome the fear of the unknown, and hopefully will encourage regulators to accept alternative, more sustainable solutions. Another alternative would be for regulators to draw more on the expertise of technical panels with suitable expertise and knowledge to assist with approval processes, much in the same way as the Australian contaminated site auditor scheme.

Beyond onsite containment solutions I’d like to see more investment developing and trialling alternative more sustainable remediation techniques. There is a world of knowledge out there which we can draw upon. We just need some funding to provide a conduit for knowledge transfer and for local trials of sustainable investigation or remediation techniques. By sharing our collective knowledge and promoting the success of individual projects the uptake of sustainable methods within our industry should improve. This is also one of the great outcomes of the ALGA Sustainable Remediation Project Awards and events like ecoforum/SustRem2023.

4. Where do you think this industry is going?

That’s a very hard question to answer given the issue is not ours alone to solve. I once believed that I would run out of contaminated land work before I retired. Now, over 30 years later I realise how naïve I was. When we consider the extent of contaminated land in New Zealand, as defined by the RMA, there simply will never be enough resources, time, or energy to clean it up. Nor would it be prudent to do so. I believe we need to have a rethink about how we manage contaminated land in Aotearoa New Zealand if we want to achieve the most sustainable outcomes, and still manage contaminated land risks.

While it may not be ‘our job’ I believe contaminated land practitioners have a unique perspective on the impacts associated with the historical use of hazardous substances, and this view needs to be shared with agencies so they can appreciate the true costs of their use. Our priority should be to stop another unknown forever chemical entering the market before it gets added to the list of other harmful substances present in our soil and waterways. When we consider the extent of lead paint and asbestos impacts to soil quality it is hard to comprehend why the use of copper, chromium, arsenic (CCA) treated timber in residential developments is not prohibited. Perhaps it’s because these compounds occur naturally that they receive less attention, but when our reference of contaminated land in New Zealand regulations is any concentration above background, it still results in contaminated land for future generations to deal with.

That problem is getting far worse since the building code changes promoted the use of CCA treated timber to address leaky building issues. The combination of a housing shortage and extremely high house prices has resulted in not so cheap 650 square metre lots extending for miles in every direction. All these new builds have a CCA treated timber deck, retaining wall, and boundary fence resulting in contamination of soils around the curtilage of every dwelling. So, you can see we have a big problem and there is a lot to do in the prevention space that would result in more sustainable outcomes. These aren’t new concepts either. We seem to have grasped the elimination concept in the way we manage health and safety risks, with it being the preferred control measure. Why not contaminated land? The answer probably lies deep within culturally embedded western values which push our focus towards short term gains over long term sustainable outcomes. This is one area where we could learn a few lessons from our indigenous peoples who tend to remain focused on the bigger picture and protecting the land and water for the benefit of future generations.

Another outcome of the way we currently regulate contaminated land in Aotearoa New Zealand is that most of the attention and effort is being spent on the low-risk sites. On a planet with dwindling resources and human driven climate related effects I believe more analysis of risk should be undertaken before any remediation action is undertaken. In the same vein I think that we need to standardise our approach nationally to the way we identify contaminated land and prioritise sites for investigation and remediation. The outcome of this would focus our attention on the sites and compounds that have the greatest potential to cause harm, or where the contaminant source has the greatest potential to cause widespread impact if left unattended.
One positive development may be the use of AI in the contaminated land data management space particularly where widespread impacts have occurred. Often site-specific data gets stored away and forgotten, but collectively that data can be used to better understand contaminated land impacts, improving efficiency, and lead to more sustainable outcomes in contaminated land management. Overall, I think that our industry is very focused on doing their part in to achieve sustainable outcomes. My only frustration is that we are tackling the tail end of the problem with somewhat limited overall effect. More power lies in our collective knowledge, our voice, and how we choose to use it.

Article Published on 27/07/2023

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