Government, Manufacturing, and Sustainability

New law regarding industrial byproducts

June 27, 2014
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Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed a series of bills last week regarding the storage and use of industrial byproducts such as coal ash, gypsum, foundry sand, and pulp and paper mill ash.

In addition to defining industrial byproducts for beneficial use, the law also outlines what those substances may be used for.

“There are basically five beneficial uses in the statute,” said Troy Cumings, attorney at Warner Norcross.

Cumings said the first is bound-up materials. These are byproducts used in road or building materials like cement or asphalt.

The second category is byproducts used as construction fill. “Under a nonresidential structure or road, for example,” Cumings said. “It has to be part of actual fill for a project; there has to be something over the top of it.”

He said there are strict environmental rules that must be adhered to in this type of use.

Land application material is the third type of beneficial use addressed: “Things that are used as soil amendments for agronomic purposes,” Cumings said.

“It could also include if you have clay soils and you need to loosen up the soil, you can use a soil conditioner, maybe foundry sand, to loosen it up so you can plant crops on it.”

The fourth use is for treating wastewater in a cleanup effort. Approval is still required from the DEQ pertaining to this type of use.

Certain industrial byproducts can also be used in the manufacturing of soil. The law requires testing to ensure the safety of the byproducts.

“The statute prohibits anything that would be deemed a hazardous waste to be used for anything like this,” he said. “We are talking about very low-level toxicity waste.”

Cumings said the industrial byproducts and uses included in the law are not new. In the past, though, companies had to seek out approval on a regular basis to store and utilize the materials. The new law streamlines the process.

“Basically, if you follow the storage requirements and environmental protections that are required, you can just do it — it’s a Nike approach. You don’t have to go to the DEQ or anywhere else.”

Cumings said the law is monumental in many ways because it’s taken more than 20 years to get it on the books. Previously, environmental concerns and industrial cleanup liability issues have caused progress on bills to stall. Cumings said the current bills provide environmental protections that address future liability issues, putting companies at ease.

He said there are both cost savings and environmental benefits to the new law.

“It can be very costly to either create a solid waste landfill at your site, or to ship the stuff off to a landfill,” he said. “Nobody wants to landfill. Reuse of these materials is a good policy. It is a very good thing to do. How can we get more of this byproduct to be used? That has been the state policy for years.”

Cumings said that, in drafting the bills, he and others worked to identify best practices being utilized in other states, particularly in the Midwest.

“Ours is a very best practice type of program,” he said.

There is still dissent regarding whether environmental protections go far enough, but Cumings said he is confident the bills incorporate input from environmental groups and other stakeholders.

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