Construction Environmental Management

Updated July 30, 2010

The construction of new buildings and renovations of existing facilities has the potential for environmental Impact.  Examples include storm water management, solid waste management (construction and demolition wastes) as well as the generation of universal and hazardous wastes or the creation of new sources of air or water pollution.

 The EHS Office and the Department of Facilities are responsible for ensuring that environmental management for construction and renovation projects is managed proactively. This will help to ensure the protection of the environment, the health and safety of workers, as well as compliance with applicable regulations at both the federal and state levels.

Construction of New Buildings- Potential environmental impacts

Contaminated soils – A significant portion of the MIT Cambridge Campus is built on soil known as urban fill.  Much of this land is located along the Charles River and was former wetland which was filled many years ago, often with the detritus of the early industrial revolution which includes significant amounts of coal ash. The soils may also be contaminated by years of vehicle emissions from leaded gasoline internal combustion engines and in some cases from factories or service stations formerly located in the area.  As a result, excavated soil may contain metals such as lead or arsenic and hydrocarbon compounds considered hazardous materials.  

Work involving potentially contaminated soil is typically performed under the auspices of the Massachusetts Contingency Plan (MCP), a program of the Mass Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) that is designed to identify and clean up contaminated properties . The MCP requires owners, such as MIT, who cause or become aware of contamination on their property to clean it up or otherwise control the hazards so there is no significant risk to the public.  In most cases, contaminated fill is excavated and replaced it with clean, non-contaminated fill.

Solid waste- new construction at MIT usually involves removal of an existing structure. In this scenario, typical construction wastes includes debris from demolition activities (wood, metal, brick asphalt etc.) as well as paper, cardboard and other related materials. This material must be collected and later sorted for recycling.  In addition, some of these materials may contain hazardous materials such as lead, asbestos, mercury  or PCBs  and they must be evaluated to determine proper handling and disposal.

Storm Water-construction sites performing dewatering or disturbing greater than  1 acre are regulated under federal law. These sites must have a storm water or dewatering management program and NPDES permit in place if the discharge will potentially reach a storm drain or water body. This will help prevent the unlawful discharge of potentially contaminated water from construction sites. This is particularly important at MIT due to the urban nature of the fill/soils in Cambridge, the water often must be captured and analyzed/treated and or collected before being released..

New air or water sources – the design of new buildings may include new sources of air or water pollution. These sources may be regulated and can include generators or boilers (air emissions) as well as laboratories with sinks or other discharges (water.)  These new sources must be reviewed and often require permitting from state regulators prior to installation.

NEPA review – If federal funding is used for all or part of the construction project, a NEPA review will likely be required.  This review is designed to assess and document the cumulative environmental impacts of the proposed project and may require public input if certain thresholds are exceeded.

Renovation of existing facilities

The renovation of existing facilities has the potential for environmental impact even before the project begins. This often involves the need for the surface cleaning of residues from lab benches, fume hoods  and the removal and subsequent  disposal of hazardous materials present at the project location (eg. asbestos, laboratory chemicals and wastes.)

Once the project begins, solid waste from minor demolition may be generated (wood drywall, metal etc.) as well as “universal wastes” (fluorescent lamp tubes, lighting ballasts, thermostats, recycled refrigerants from scrapped HVAC equipment etc.) A survey of the work area prior to the start of the project will assist in identifying these materials so that a plan for removal and disposal can be developed.  The plan also works to capture the clean-up and disposal costs, so that they may be incorporated into the initial project budget estimate.