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  • Scott Allen

Don't Panic! New excess soil rules aren't... that bad?

Updated: Aug 29, 2023

“I think this is going to be the last job I bid, I swear to god”.

Yes, I’ve actually heard this from one of our major earthwork’s contracting client, a client that have been in business in the GTA since before I was born. This happened recently during a project involving the new excess soil management rules and regulations.

While this might have been a little dramatic, it is safe to say that the new excess soil management regulations have caused some panic amongst contractors, owners and Qualified Persons (QP) around the industry. Since the new regulations and updates involving O. Reg 406/19 and O.Reg 153/04 came into place on January 1, 2021 and January 1, 2022, my days have been spent mostly educating owners and contractors on our interpretation of the new regulations. Many people find these new regulations hard to comprehend, but the reality of it is that these are the new normal when working with construction and development projects across the province. AllRock has numerous Qualified Persons in Toronto and Ottawa.

I’ve spoken with numerous other qualified persons, conducting my own research into the regulations, and providing our services for QP testing in Toronto, Ottawa and many other municipalities. I’ve decided to try and help educate people from a QP’s perspective on the new regulations, by putting my interpretation out there.

One qualifier I’ll mention before diving in, is that portions of the regulations could be open to interpretation by whoever takes the time to read them. Even as a Soil Engineer who has stared at these new excess soil regulations for too long, and had plenty of field application in these areas, I still get questions from clients that make me double check my findings. At the end of the day, the regulations don’t act as a perfect rule book for decision making and most of the time, decisions will come down to your specific site and Qualified Persons experience with the regulations.

And while these new regulations will cause countless number of headaches around the industry, I do agree with the overall goal, especially in bigger centres. Eventually, we will have a system in place where no soil is wasted. Overall, this will help the economy and environment.

Let’s start with some basics… what is excess soil?

Excess soil is just that. Excess soil. Whenever you are required to cut or fill around your construction site, the soil removed is considered excess soil. Any excess soil that you need to be imported to your site is also considered excess soil and all the rules apply to it.

The first thing you want to do when you anticipate that excess soil will be generated on your site, is to call a Qualified Person (QP). A QP is typical a soil engineer, environmental engineer or another qualified individual who is well versed in managing the environmental standards for a site. Your QP should be able to help educate you from the beginning to ensure you can plan your work as best as possible. Whether its excess soil management in Ottawa, Toronto or elsewhere in the province, the rules will be the same.

QUICK PLUG: AllRock is experienced in QP and environmental testing in Toronto, Ottawa and across the province. Take a look at the environmental services section of our website. https://www.allrockconsulting.com/environmental. Call or email Scott at (416) 452-8998 or scott.allen@allrockconsulting.com.

One term that has been at the center of much confusion is the term "project lead". This is not clearly defined in the Regulations, as it is up to the owner if they want to take on project lead responsibilities, or leave this up to the the contractor and the contractors QP. One thing that should be established in the tender documents is who is considered the project lead. If this is not established, you should ask the owner who will be the designated project lead.

The first thing your QP should ask you for is all the documentation and records that have ever been produced for your site. Ideally, a phase I/II environmental site assessment would have been already completed on your site. A Phase I/II ESA is essentially a detailed study assessing the condition of your site from an environmental standpoint. This includes compiling information on past uses/activities for the site, field well information, etc. The Phase I will set a standard for the site to which all future assessment and characteristic of soil should be compared to. IE Ontario Soil Tables.

A quick overview of the soil tables. The government has defined several tables containing guidelines which your site should be compared to depending on your site’s conditions. Example; if your site has non-potable ground water in a residential area, your site would be a table 3 site (this would be defined in your Phase I ESA). Each table lists individual parameters (i.e. Arsenic, SAR etc.) and the maximum permissible concentration allowable under that table. There are nine tables, but the main ones that are most used are tables 1, 2 and 3 with table 1 being the strictest and table 3 being the least. These tables are important later when your QP tests your soil.

Once your QP has reviewed all the recent and relevant reports for your site, you can begin to start the remaining documents outlined in the new regulations. AllRock will give a very brief overview of each of the documents are requirements.

· Assessment of past uses

· Sampling and testing plan/soil characterization report

· Excess soil destination report

· Soil tracking/hauling records

· Filing of notices to the registry

Assessment of Past Uses

If no Phase I/II Environmental Site Assessment has been completed your site, your QP must complete an Assessment of Past Uses (APU). Remember, Phase I’s or APU’s in this case are important as they set the environmental standard for your site. An APU can take several weeks to complete, so it is best to get on this one right away. Not to be confused, a phase I ESA and geotechnical investigation in Ontario are not the same, although they often go hand in hand.

Soil retained on drill augers that you would see during environmental drilling
Soil on Drill Augers

Sampling and Testing Plan

Once you’ve determined the site condition standard for your site, and the volume of excess soil to be generated your QP will determine a sampling and testing plan for the excess soil. They will outline the quantity of tests you need based on the proposed volume, and the specific parameters to be tested for based on the Phase I/II and ESA’s completed.

“I’ve got 5,000 m3 of soil, how many tests do I need”

Our answers usually shock people and they don’t believe the number of tests required by O.Reg 153. The answer above depends on if the material is stockpiled, or in-situ.

If it is stockpiled here is your answer:

Stockpile sampling for environmental testing
Stockpile Sampling Frequency O.Reg 153/04

If your soil is in-situ you need to do a bit more calculation (sorry).

· 1 sample per 200 m3 for the first 10,000 m3 of excess soil

· 1 sample per 450 m3 for the next 30,000 m3 of excess soil

· 1 sample per 2,000 m3 for any soil volume after that

So, for example, if you have 15,000 m3 of soil then you will need.

· 1 sample per 200 m3 for the first 10,000 m3 (10,000 /200 = 50 samples)

· Then 1 sample 450 m3 for your remaining 5,000 m3 (5,000/450 = 11 samples)

That’s right, for 15,00 m3 of soil you need 61 samples… Don’t feel too bad, we had a site recently with 42,000 m3 and they needed 116 samples. That’s a lot of jars full of soil.

Once your testing plan is completed, your QP can actually go out there and sample this material. There are different ways of sampling (ie. test pits, drill rigs, hand augers etc.) but I would recommend helping your QP as much as possible during sampling since you are paying them by the hour. Once sampling is complete the soil will be sent to a soil testing laboratory. Toronto and Ottawa soil testing (as well as the rest of Ontario) is completed by a handful of independent and certified laboratories. This will be a different company that the one your QP is working for. There are only a number of these labs in the province as they require certification and specialized equipment, but one thing is consistent across the labs. They are all busy, all the time. So, your best bet is to get these samples in as early as possible. You can pay double to expedite these samples, but some labs are not even offering this service anymore because of their daunting workload.

Environmental sampling for soil testing
Environmental Soil Sampling

Soil Characterization Report

Once test results have been completed, your QP will prepare a soil characterization report. This is where the tables will come back into play. The results will be compared to the table for your site (or the one you are looking to ship soil to), to see if the soil meets or exceeds the specific parameters. If there are no exceedances, great, if there are then a bit more work will be required. Your QP will likely recommend you excavate the area around where the contaminated soil was found, and then take follow up samples to ensure it has all been removed.

This report will be very helpful in determining which sites will accept your soil. Hence the next section.

Excess Soil Destination Report

This one is simple. Once you know the quality and quantity of your soil, your QP must write a report outlining details on the excess soil destination, including written confirmation that the receiving site understands and accepts the quantity and quality of the soil proposed. AllRock can prepare your excess soil destination reports in the GTA, Ottawa and throughout Ontario.

Soil Tracking/Haulage Records

Here comes the fun part, soil tracking. AllRock has completed numerous projects involving soil tracking in Toronto, Ottawa and across the province. One of the most common mistakes by contractors and owners is not fully understanding the requirements of a soil tracking system before moving soil and/or not having a system in place. This isn’t a great feeling once someone knocks on your door and asks you for your tracking system and you’ve already moved the soil across town. Once you finish moving soil, there is no way to go back and get a tracking system in place.

Lack of preparation for soil tracking can have expensive repercussions. For example, on most sites you are required to have your QP at the source site, and at the receiving site to track their soil. Having two QP’s always onsite will create an expensive consulting bill. You should ensure planning and initial bidding takes soil tracking into account.

Soil tracking is as straightforward as it sounds. Getting the license plate number, time, driver name and all the other small details for each truck moving your excess soil. The whole point is to ensure that no soil is being shipped to places where it shouldn’t be, and that the contractor is following their plan set out by their QP. At the end of each day, the QP will ensure the tracking data coming from the source site meets the tracking data at the receiving site. They will then investigate any anomalies such as missing trucks, delayed trucks etc.

Soil Registry

Finally, we come to the end. The soil registry. Once your project is completed, your QP will need to ensure that all documentation listed above is inputted into the provinces new Soil Registry, by filling a notice of site condition. This means your site, and all the reports and activities completed on the site in terms of excess soil will be uploaded to an online database for future reference. So, you and your QP better have those ducks in a row, because this data is available online, forever…

At the end of the day, these are just my interpretation of the rules. You should speak with your QP as they will know what is best for your specific site. I hope this information can help others trying to understand the new rules and regulations.

AllRock is offering free presentations to our clients to help educate their teams of estimators, project managers and engineers. Reach out to us today at https://www.allrockconsulting.com/contact.

Scott Allen, P. Eng.




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