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As a major source of almost every major type of pollution, the construction industry is responsible for generating approximately 4% of particulate emissions, as well as more water pollution incidents and noise complaints than any other industry1.
In addition, construction processes are also associated with contaminated soils and reintroducing subsurface pollution back into the environment. As a result of the inherent risks associated with any construction project, joint efforts between this industry and federal entities in order to reduce the number of hazardous substances, pollutants and/or contaminants that are released into the environment at the construction site and beyond.
According to the London Atmospheric Emissions Inventory, which is one of the most recent studies that has been conducted in the United Kingdom to evaluate air quality, the construction industry is responsible for an estimated 4.5% of nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions, 8% of large particle emissions (PM10) and 14.5% of fine particle emissions (PM2.5). And, as a result of their small size, are arguably some of the most dangerous types of particles that can affect human health2.
While the effects following exposure to particulate matter are largely dependent upon the size of the particles, some of the major health effects that can occur include; premature death in people with heart or lung disease, nonfatal heart attacks, irregular heartbeat, aggravated asthma symptoms, reduced pulmonary function and the worsening of respiratory symptoms3.
One of the major sources of harmful air pollutants at a construction site are diesel-powered construction equipment, some of which include:
- Crawler tractors (Tracked bulldozers)
- Rubber-Tired Loaders
- Off-highway Trucks
- Rough-Terrain Forklifts
In the United States alone, over 6 billion gallons of diesel fuel are consumed each year solely within the construction and mining industries, which utilize over two million pieces of equipment each year5. To address the astonishing amount of carbon and pollutant emissions that result from the use of diesel-burned construction equipment many countries have developed federal restrictions, dictating the quantity of carbon emissions that can be released by a site each year.
At a construction site, various different substances can contribute to water pollution, some of which include:
In addition to pollutants that can enter water supplies as a direct result of construction processes, stormwater discharges from construction sites that occur following a storm can also have disastrous health effects.
After a rainstorm, remaining stormwater can wash over any loose soil, materials or products that are present around a construction site and transport these substances to nearby storm sewer systems or directly into rivers, lakes or other coastal waters6.
As this water continues to pull these different types of materials from construction sites, it carries sediment, debris and other chemicals that may pose a potential danger to the clean water supplies and environment of surrounding communities.
Of these pollutants, sediment is particularly problematic for various reasons. These reasons include; accumulated sediment can suffocate benthic organisms, sediment can negatively affect the ability of storm drains to carry water away from homes, which increases the risk of flooding in affected areas and there is a risk of the activation of blue-green algae.
Noise pollution is defined as an excessive amount of noise or other unpleasant sounds that can cause some type of disruption in the natural atmosphere of a given location8.
Since construction procedures require the use of a wide range of large and noisy equipment, such as those used for demolition and erection purposes, it is no surprise that the construction industry is responsible for a major source of noise pollution every day.
Aside from people living and working in communities that surround construction sites, the excessive amount of noise emitted during construction projects primarily affects the workers that are in close proximity to the equipment being used.
Since the noise that is being generated from construction equipment is often predictable, there are various measures that construction companies can take to prevent any potential harm to their workers and surrounding individuals.
While hearing protection is typically provided to construction employees, workers are not always compliant with wearing this protective gear for discomfort issues, as well as concerns regarding the inability of workers to hear warning signals or fellow workers when hearing protection is being used9.
One of the only ways that this industry can protect their workers from potential irreversible hearing loss is through increasing education of the real danger posed by direct exposure to excess construction noise pollution.
Additionally, the use of noise dosimeters otherwise referred to as sound level meters can also be useful tools on the construction site that require workers to use hearing protectors in the event that noise levels exceed 90 dBA9.
References and Further Reading
- “Pollution from Construction” – Sustainable Builds
- “How to stop the construction industry choking our cities” – The Guardian
- “Health and Environmental Effects of Particulate Matter (PM)” – The United States Environmental Protection Agency
- “Digging Up Trouble” – Union of Concerned Scientists
- Heidari, B., & Marr, L. C. (2015). Real-time emission from construction equipment compared with model predictions. Technical Papers, 115-125. DOI: 810.1080/10962247.2014.978485.
- “Stormwater Discharge from Construction Activities” – The United States Environmental Protection Agency
- “What is Sediment Pollution?” – Mid-America Regional Council
- “Understanding Noise Pollution” – Conserve Energy Future
- “Noise in Construction” – EHS Today