EPA Effort to Regulate Urban Construction Dust Draws Fire
A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposal to establish a 24-hour “coarse particulate standard” focusing on dust emitted from construction activities in urban areas has run into opposition from the nation’s home builders.
If approved, the rule would add complicated, contradictory mandates at the job site for builders working in areas with a population of 100,000 or more.
The issue of “crustal fugitive dust emissions” — or common dirt — is based on the theory that sand and dust stirred up from construction sites is inherently more dangerous than dust from other sources, such as farming or even windstorms. NAHB sent comments to the agency opposing the proposal in April.
“There is no indication that coarse particle emissions from construction sites are any different than those emitted from agricultural or mining sites,” wrote Susan Asmus, NAHB’s staff vice president for the environment in the Labor Safety and Health advocacy group. Nor, the letter states, does any study cited by the agency show that urban dust is more of a risk than rural dust. “Finally, as proposed, the rule will present a series of implementation problems that will make it virtually unenforceable,” Asmus said.
NAHB has compiled a list of metropolitan areas (click here) with “non-attainment” status under the current rule. These are places that do not meet current particulate standards and that are more likely to be affected by more stringent rules. Areas on the list were responsible for almost 240,000 housing starts in 2004. Additional housing starts are likely to be affected by the proposed rule, but it’s too soon to tell how many metropolitan areas might move into non-attainment status.
EPA has cited studies showing a correlation between dusty urban air and hospital admission rates, even though its own staff members have agreed that the studies don’t conclude that the dust particles likely to affect one’s health only come from construction sites.
EPA also has cited a study showing that short-term exposure to coarse particulates has no effect on health and has used that finding to exempt some dust particles from the standard. “NAHB contends these same findings could also be used to justify exempting all sources of fugitive dust,” said Asmus. “EPA is urged to consider treating fugitive dust emissions as it treats the very similar dust from agricultural and mining operations.”
EPA already has regulatory agreements with the states that unusual amounts of dust and dirt in the air from droughts, windstorms and other weather-related events will not affect air quality measurements related to environmental action plans. If that dust is the same kind of dust raised during home construction, it should have a similar effect on air quality, NAHB argued.
“The uncertainties regarding the actual health impacts” and other weak arguments “place the agency on tenuous ground,” Asmus wrote.
Tougher dust control measures are certain to affect housing affordability. Home builders in metropolitan Phoenix already spend between $2,500 and $5,000 per unit on dust control measures, depending on mitigation efforts and the cost of the water used to dampen the site, said Spencer Kamps, vice president of legislative affairs for the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona. If the proposed rule is approved, “the cost of controlling dust on our sites will certainly go up — there is no doubt about that,” he said.
Kamps said his members support NAHB efforts to keep the proposed regulation at bay. “Of course there is dust at a construction site, but home builders are a very small portion of the problem — yet, we are the only group that’s regulated. There’s no way we’re going to reach attainment [of Clean Air Act standards] under the proposed rule because it’s even more restrictive than the existing rule, and agricultural and mining work are still exempt.”
For more information, e-mail Calli Schmidt at NAHB, or call her at 800-368-5242 x8132.