How Can We Prevent or Reduce Construction Pollution?
Construction activities play a crucial role in a range of areas including urban development, infrastructure, and economic growth. However, the environmental impact of construction often poses a significant challenge, especially when it comes to pollution.
Construction pollution takes place in various forms, including air and water, noise, and construction waste. Recent reports concerning different elements of construction pollution make for some hard reading, for example:
· 2023 stats from the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) found that embodied carbon emissions in particular are an ongoing issue, with the construction sector as a whole not decarbonising as fast as required to meet Net Zero aims by 2025.
· In addition, the UK Construction Industry Waste Report 2023 (produced by Qflow) has shown that ineffective waste management is also an ongoing problem. With construction waste sitting at 62% of all UK waste, and 13% of this going to landfill, more work also needs to be done in this area to reduce both figures, of waste being generated and waste going to landfill.
· Leeds has recently been named as one of the UK’s worst cities for noise pollution caused by construction. Leeds has seen “record breaking levels of development” in the past 5 years, but this doesn’t excuse the need for responsible noise generation. Noise pollution is not only damaging to human health, but it has a knock on effect on the natural world around us.
To create a more sustainable and environmentally friendly construction industry, it is essential to implement effective measures to prevent or reduce construction pollution.
Sustainable design and planning should be the starting point for any construction project, including ensuring that eco-friendly practices and materials are in place from conception to completion.
Effective Waste Management
All construction projects generate substantial amounts of waste, such as debris, packaging materials, and excess building materials. Whilst this is unavoidable, implementing an efficient waste management plan is crucial for reducing the resulting pollution from this waste.
A waste management plan can include a number of elements such as recycling materials, reusing salvaged items and the proper disposal of hazardous waste. Recycling and reuse reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill, and disposing of hazardous waste properly ensures that the environment is not damaged.
In addition, waste reduction measures should be considered to reduce the amount of waste produced in the first place. Control measures should include ordering the exact amount of items required, correct storage of materials to avoid damage also training all workers correctly to ensure they do not waste materials through incorrect handling.
Erosion and Sediment Control
Water pollution is a major concern for construction sites, as it is often caused by soil erosion and sediment runoff through construction activities. Silt fences, sediment basins, and erosion control blankets are all measures that help to prevent soil erosion and protect bodies of water nearby. These measures also help to maintain the quality of aquatic ecosystems.
Green Construction Techniques
Implementing green construction techniques can significantly reduce the environmental impact of construction projects. This may include modular construction, using machinery that generates lower emissions and adopting renewable energy sources, such as solar panels to help construction processes become cleaner.
Construction dust is an air pollutant that poses risks to both human and environmental health. We have written about this before in our article, The Dangers of Construction Dust. Taking measures to reduce the amount of dust being generated and also putting systems into place to deal with dust that is generated will help reduce these risks.
Air Pollution Control
Air pollution sources from construction include construction dust, noxious vapours and fuel emissions from heavy goods vehicles and plant. All of these (and others) are dangerous and need to be reduced where possible and handled correctly where they do exist. Measures include the use of eco-friendly plant/vehicles where possible, putting dust control reduction systems in place and ensuring that all sources of noxious vapours (which can include oils, thinners, paints, cleaners and treated woods) are handled correctly.
Construction sites are notorious for generating noise pollution, which affects both the workers and the surrounding community. Implementing noise mitigation strategies, such as using quieter construction equipment, scheduling noisy activities during specific hours, and installing
Recent Developments in Pollution Control
There have been many advances over the past few years in reducing the pollution caused by construction activities. We looked at quite a few of these in 2021 including the usage of recycled and biodegradable materials, an increase in prefabricated construction techniques to reduce waste and the use of renewable energy sources (both on site and in new homes). More recent developments include:
Regulating Work with Respirable Crystalline Silica (RCS)
In July 2023, HSE launched a specific operation to inspect manufacturing businesses that use materials containing silica. This is due to the dangers that silica dust poses for respiratory health – if humans breathe in airborne respirable crystalline silica (RCS) it can lead to major health problems including lung cancer, COPD and silicosis. These are life changing health problems and as such these control measures now in place will work to ensure that all workers at risk wear respiratory protective equipment (RPE), local exhaust ventilation and other PPE. Silica inspections are now part of the Dust Kills campaign from HSE which provides free advice to businesses and workers on the control measures required to prevent exposure to dust.
Sensors to Pinpoint Pollution on Sites
A study published in 2023 in npj Climate and Atmospheric Science has demonstrated how low cost sensors can help to manage air quality in a range of environments including construction, industrial setting and in traffic. These sensors, trialled at the HS2 site in Birmingham as well as other areas, allowed the identification of particle emission hotspots and as such give way for real time monitoring of air quality.
Civil sanctions to penalising companies for breaching legislation around water pollution
Civil sanctions such as large fines and penalties have been used on an increasing basis over past years to protect our rivers and waterways from the damaging effects of construction pollution. A number of high-profile UK house builders have been hit with fines ranging from £100,000 to £500,000 for breaching legislative measures around silt pollution and illegal discharges. These hefty fines should serve as a powerful deterrent for future years, especially if the current limit on civil penalties is ever increased.
Further reading: 2021 Sustainability Innovations for Construction