amounts of storm debris recycled by Mike Breslin
This spring delivered a whirlwind of devastating
tornados that brought death, injuries and heartbreak to thousands
of people across the Southeast, Midwest and even into Massachusetts.
Recovery, as difficult as it is, has begun.
The twisted buildings, downed trees, mangled vehicles and infrastructure
rubble is being cleared away before reconstruction can be started.
The bulk of the debris is being landfilled, but more and more
is being recycled in safe, responsible ways.
On Saturday, April 16 in Raleigh, North Carolina,
a total of 28 confirmed tornadoes ripped through central North
Carolina killing 24 people, injured hundreds, destroying or damaging
thousands of homes and commercial buildings, and knocking down
trees and power lines. Five of the tornadoes were listed as EF3,
with wind speeds of 136 to 165 mph – the worst tornados the state
has seen in more than 20 years.
The area in and around Raleigh was one of
the hardest hit. As the state capital and second largest city
in North Carolina, it has a population just over 400,000 and
is known as “The City of Oaks.” The tornados killed or damaged
many of the city’s famed oak trees.
“These tornados were pretty bad. So far we
have removed over 200,000 cubic yards of debris from fallen trees
from the streets,” said Chris McGee, street superintendent for
the City of Raleigh, Department of Public Works. He explained
how Raleigh prepared for, and then handled the event after the
tornados passed through.
“During the first 72 hours, city forces go
through the streets and we do cut and shove. We are cutting debris
out of the way and shoving it over out of the street to get roads
back open for emergency vehicles and allow people to get in and
out of their homes. We just deal with the streets and don’t deal
with any of the construction debris. That is left up to the property
owner and their insurance company.”
McGee has responsibility for approximately
1,050 centerline miles of streets. The North Carolina Department
of Transportation maintains another 250 miles of streets within
the city limits, but relies on Raleigh to clear storm damages.
City crews worked night and day and had most
everything shoved off to the side of the streets in 48 to 72
hours. “It’s chain saws, trucks, backhoes, front-end loaders
and excavators – pretty much anything you can use to push, pull
or cut what we have out there,” said McGee.
By the end of the second day, 99 percent
of the streets were cleared. By the third day most everything
was passable, although a few streets took several days to open
because of power line issues.
“After the first 72 hours we call in our
pre-positioned contractor, Phillips & Jordan, a debris management company based in western
North Carolina. We put out an RFP two years ago, got bids and
structured a contract based on that. Basically, the contract
says that if we have an event, the contractor guarantees they
will be here within 24 hours of us giving him a phone call. They
have to roll in with a certain number of forces and start removing
debris at a certain rate over a certain number of days.”
Contract crews work 12 hour days, 6 days
per week removing the cut and shove material because it is not
safe to cut and load at night. “For the first 70 hours FEMA (Federal
Emergency Management Agency) will pay us 100 percent for the
cut and shove operation and we work around the clock. After that
the only way we get a 100 percent recoup of our funds is if we
do it by contract. During the first 70 hours if my guys go out
and do the pickup, FEMA won’t reimburse me 100 percent, whereas
if Phillips & Jordan
picks up the material we get 100 percent reimbursement from FEMA,”
Raleigh uses a temporary, permitted dumpsite
to receive vegetative debris. There the debris is ground up and
shipped out to be further processed into bagged mulch, or sent
to local co-generation plants to make electricity.
The most destructive tornado of the year
struck Joplin on May 22. The EF-5 rated tornado with wind speeds
exceeding 200 mph tore through the city of 50,000 to become among
the deadliest in the nation’s history.
Recently, two more names were added to the
list bringing the death toll to 153. About one-third of the city
was either severely damaged or completely destroyed. News estimates
say that at least 75 percent of the city has been damaged to
David Bryan, spokesman for United States
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 7 described the
aftermath from the Joplin mobile command center, “With the volume
of materials that we are going to have to deal with from this
particular event, there’s been quite a bit of interest. We are
talking about a tornado path of 8 to 10 miles of almost a half
mile across of just absolute destruction.”
EPA Region 7 personnel, including project
coordinators, technical experts and other support personnel are
on site and involved in several disaster response efforts in
the Joplin area being coordinated by FEMA.
EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE)
recently began tornado debris collections. All construction and
demolition debris (C&D)
and vegetative material being removed by USACE contractors is
being kept separate from household hazardous waste, white goods
and electronic equipment, which are being handled by the EPA.
Due to Joplin’s proximity to southeast Kansas
landfills, they are the preferred sites over ones in Missouri
to handle the vegetative and C&D debris. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment
(KDHE) estimates that landfills in Cherokee and Crawford counties
will receive between two to three million cubic yards of C&D
waste from Joplin. KDHE is working with the Army Corps and the
Missouri Department of Natural Resources to ensure proper disposal
of C&D waste, which includes wood, insulation, electrical
wiring, rebar, concrete and bricks. Vegetative waste is being
managed at a site in Missouri where chipping is being used and
USACE intends to haul several hundreds of
loads of debris per day to Kansas landfills with expectations
of completing most debris removal and disposal by mid-August.
To ensure safe disposal of C&D waste, KDHE’s Bureau of Waste Management is monitoring
landfill operations. Landfills receiving C&D waste are following
enhanced waste screening procedures to ensure that unauthorized
waste is not disposed.
“The collaboration by state agencies, local
government officials, the Army Corps and landfill owners has
yielded creative solutions to help maximize the use of Kansas
resources in helping the cleanup efforts in Joplin,” said Bill
Bider, KDHE’s director of waste.
Bryan reported on the EPA cleanup effort,
“We are not doing construction debris or vegetative matter, that’s
the Army Corps. One of the normal disaster responses for EPA
is handling household hazardous wastes, white goods and electronics.”
“When we have fertilizers, pesticides and
things like that, we turn those over to a company that handles
those types of hazardous materials for disposal. These are regulated
materials so there are certain ways they have to be handled.
We use certified contractors who take those materials. For any
types of oils, gasoline and inflammable liquids we actually supply
to bulk handlers who sell that as waste oil or other properties
that can be used for their BTU effect. There are probably a half
dozen more ways that that we are tracking hazardous waste trying
to make sure that things are either recycled, remanufactured
“With most of the appliances we get, we work
with a company that handles these goods. When we come into a
situation like Joplin we find a company that does remanufacturing
and will take this on. EPA contractors remove oils, refrigerants
and the like and we do what we can to make sure they are reused.
Remanufacturers will also take damaged refrigerators, washers,
dryers, stoves and take them completely apart for the copper
and other metals.”
“For the electronic goods we make sure they
are recycled with the rules associated for computers and TVs
and things like that. We want to make sure that we have a certified
contractor that is either going to remanufacture, or dispose
in the proper way.” MRC Recycling, a Missouri state certified
recycling contractor picked up the first two truckloads of electronic
goods on June 13 for delivery to their processing plant in Park
“In most cases it’s a benefit because contractors
will take materials off our hands, sometimes for freight charges;
sometimes they come and get it. So there’s a trade-off. They
get the materials and we get proper disposal. It’s a give and
take system involving different aspects of what we recover and
what we recycle. We want to make sure that everything we get
has been properly reused, recycled or remanufactured. We‘ve had
good cooperation from our contractors,” Bryan concluded.
These are the type of recycling jobs that
no one expected nor wanted, but government agencies, volunteer
groups and private recyclers are working hard to clean up these
cities in an environmentally responsible way.