Construction Pollution: 4 Sources Job Sites Need to Prepare For 

When it comes to pollution events, most people think of newsworthy headlines associated with pipeline leaks and corporate scandals. However, pollution often doesn’t come from these major events but from far more mundane sources.  

For instance, one sector that frequently runs the risk of a pollution event is the construction industry. Whether it’s an accidental leakage into a waterway or asbestos released into the air, job sites of all sizes need to grapple with environmental threats that could lead to health issues, legal tangles, and significant expenses. 

To tackle construction related pollution head-on, it’s crucial to understand its sources and potential consequences. In this guide, we’ll delve into the most common sources of construction related pollution, offering examples based on real-world claims we’ve seen through our environmental insurance program. That way, you’ll understand how pollution events can jeopardize construction projects and incur substantial legal costs if site owners, contractors, and everyone else involved don’t take these threats seriously.  

1. Air Pollution 

Air pollution results from the release of particles or gases into the air from a construction site. This can occur during all parts of the construction process, from clearing a site to building a new building to demolishing an old one.  

The most common kinds of air pollutants created at construction sites are: 

  • Dust: Construction activities generate airborne particulate matter, leading to respiratory problems and reduced air quality. 
  • Asbestos: Disturbed asbestos-containing materials release hazardous fibers into the air, posing serious health risks when inhaled. 
  • Mold: Moisture and poor ventilation can foster mold growth, which releases spores, causing respiratory issues when inhaled. 

One of the most potent forms of air pollution from construction sites is volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs include several different chemicals found in fuels, paints, solvents, and more. These VOCs can quickly cause negative health effects for workers and local residents, with symptoms ranging from headaches to organ damage to cancer. 

Demolition Mistake Costs Contractor $150,000 

A demolition contractor at an industrial facility faced unexpected expenses exceeding $150,000 due to asbestos contamination caused by their work. At the time, they were tasked with demolishing a mechanical shed that had already undergone an asbestos and lead contamination assessment and remediation by another subcontractor.  

However, during the demolition, a cloud of dust emerged, spreading and settling on a neighboring homeowner’s property. The concerned homeowner notified the facility owner and requested immediate cleanup. 

In response, an investigation revealed that construction dust and asbestos contamination were present on the homeowner’s property. Surprisingly, the initial asbestos survey had failed to identify certain asbestos-covered piping inside the shed. 

Consequently, the demolition contractor found themselves responsible for addressing the asbestos issue at the industrial site and, additionally, for conducting cleanup and remediation on the homeowner’s property.  

2. Surface Water Pollution 

Surface water pollution occurs when contaminants from construction sites find their way into nearby bodies of water, like rivers, lakes, or streams. Once these contaminants are in the water, cleaning them up can be a lengthy and expensive process. Plus, it could have health consequences for nearby wildlife and human populations.  

Some common causes of surface water pollution from construction sites include:  

  • Sediment Runoff: During excavation and earthmoving processes, soil and sediment can be eroded by rainfall and transported into nearby waterways. This sediment runoff can disrupt aquatic ecosystems and degrade water quality. 
  • Chemical Spills: Accidental spills of construction chemicals, such as oils, fuels, or concrete additives, can introduce harmful substances into surface waters. 
  • Improper Waste Disposal: Inadequate disposal of construction waste materials, including hazardous substances like paint, solvents, or construction debris, can result in these materials leaching into surface waters, causing contamination. 

Fuel Leak Results in $30,000 Bill 

Fuel is a common cause of surface water pollution claims because it’s used on nearly all construction sites, and even relatively small leaks must be cleaned up. 

In this case, a civil contractor was left with a more than $30,000 bill after they inadvertently caused a fuel leak that made its way into a local waterway. At the time, the contractor was working on a development project and needed to refuel their excavator with a mobile fuel tank truck. However, they didn’t notice a leak in the connection hose releasing fuel. The released fuel made its way to an offsite culvert, where it was then released into a nearby stream.  

Due to this mistake, the contractor had to pay for the costs of cleaning up the stream, plus the cost of the investigation.  

3. Groundwater Pollution  

Groundwater pollution is similar to surface water pollution, but instead of these pollutants staying in bodies of water like rivers or lakes, they seep through the soil into underground water sources like aquifers. 

The biggest challenge with these kinds of pollution cases is that they’re terribly difficult to clean up. For instance, one way of cleaning up this kind of event is through what’s called pump and treat, where water is pumped to the surface, treated, and then returned. Although each project is different, the EPA estimates that the average pump and treat project costs around half a million dollars.  

Several common causes of groundwater pollution at construction sites include: 

  • Storage Tank Leaks: Accidental leaks, especially from underground storage tanks, can infiltrate the ground and contaminate the groundwater. 
  • Historical Contaminants: Older work sites may not have been properly cleaned up to today’s standards, with old waste materials or chemicals slowly leaching into the groundwater in the area. 

 Addressing groundwater pollution can be complex and costly, making it crucial for construction sites to implement stringent pollution prevention measures and have proper groundwater pollution insurance

Drilling Accident Leads to $250,000 Cleanup 

Groundwater sources are extremely delicate, so even small mistakes can lead to big headaches down the line. For instance, a well driller was charged nearly a quarter of a million dollars because of a small mistake they made while doing their job. 

In this case, their job was to install a water supply well for an industrial property owner. However, the driller inadvertently drilled through unknown contaminated soil during the work. The soil contained free-product petroleum liquids that ended up contaminating a clean aquifer below the drilling operation.   

The driller didn’t know that the soil there was contaminated, but they still had to pay for the costs of investigating the incident and cleaning up the underground water source. 

4. Soil Pollution  

Soil pollution is a serious concern that introduces long-lasting, harmful substances into the soil and subsoil layers of the ground. This can affect plants, water retention, and local communities. 

Common causes of soil pollution from construction sites include: 

  • Historical pollutants: Older sites may have old pollutants or banned chemicals like carbon tetrachlorides buried underground. Disturbing these pollutants can result in major pollution events. 
  • On-site accidents: Accidental spills or leaks can introduce harmful substances that contaminate the land. 
  • Lead contamination: This harmful substance can build up in the soil after a construction project, especially those that involve older structures containing lead-based paint.   

Remediating soil pollution can be a protracted and expensive process, underscoring the importance of stringent pollution prevention measures at construction sites to preserve soil health and protect surrounding environments. 

Blown Pipeline Results in $2,000,000 Down the Drain 

When it comes to soil pollution, almost nothing is more harmful than petroleum products. Not only do they cause lasting damage, but they’re unfortunately everywhere in our modern world.  

For instance, during the grading operation for a highway construction project, a contractor accidentally nicked a shallow high-pressure petroleum pipeline. The resulting spill cost the contractor over $2,000,000 as they needed to deal with the emergency response and cleanup costs. 

Discover Environmental Pollution Coverage From Distinguished 

When it comes to construction pollution, job sites, site owners, and contractors need to take a proactive approach. This can include training, strict protocols, and experienced tradespeople.  

However, it also means having a comprehensive environmental insurance policy in place in case of a pollution event. Distinguished offers a suite of policies that aim to cover all the most common pollution events that can occur on job sites. 

Interested in learning more? Here are some more articles where you can learn about the benefits of Environmental Insurance through Distinguished. 

About Distinguished Programs

Distinguished Programs is a leading national insurance Program Manager providing specialized insurance programs to brokers and agents with specific expertise in Fine Art and Collectibles, Environmental and Construction Professional, Executive Lines, Inland Marine, Real Estate & Builder’s Risk, Community Associations, Hotels, and Restaurants. Property and Liability products are distributed through a national network of agents and brokers. Serving the same core markets and partnering with the most stable and reputable carriers, Distinguished’s high-limit Umbrella programs remain the clear choice in its area of specialty for superior coverage, competitive pricing, and attentive service. Through thoughtful innovation, stemming back to 1995, Distinguished Programs fosters growth and opportunities for its brokers, carriers, and employees.

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