ORLEANS– The town is covering up something in the watershed – but that's a good thing.
Within the next couple of weeks, “as soon as the frost is out of the pile,” as DPW Director Tom Daley puts it, the water department will begin shaping a tall and long pile of reclaimed asphalt pavement (RAP) that was trucked in a few months ago. Then a tarp will be placed over it.
“We presented (the situation) to the board of water and sewer commissioners,” said Daley, “and they thought it would be a good idea just to cover it.” The board reached that decision at its Jan. 16 meeting.
So what is RAP, and what is it doing in the watershed?
RAP is basically millings, according to Daley, the top layer that is milled up before a road is repaved. “Millings is a valuable commodity,” he said in an interview last week. “Whenever in my career I have had the opportunity to get my hands on RAP for free, every town I ever worked for has jumped on it.”
Last year, Daley said, the town had excess millings and gravel material from the downtown sewer project. He said water department Superintendent Todd Bunzick asked to use it to protect the large number of gravel roads in the watershed and for stabilizing trenches.
“One of the common uses of millings in the public works industry is to stabilize gravel roads,” said Daley. “Millings makes the best quality gravel that you can use to stabilize dirt roads... Last year, we had the opportunity to get a lot of millings from those projects delivered to us for free by the various contractors.”
To appreciate the value of the RAP, Daley compares it to a matching amount of processed gravel that would cost $90,000. “This is better than processed gravel,” he said. “It erodes less and holds its shape better. It's more granular.”
The roads in the town watershed are used by walkers, so it didn't take long for questions to arise about the big heap of material near the water treatment plant. At the water and sewer board meeting in January, commissioner Len Short said the matter had come up at a meeting of the Orleans Pond Coalition.
Last October, Daley told the commissioners, Selectman Mefford Runyon had shared those questions with him as well as a study on RAP done for the New Jersey transportation and environmental protection departments in 2017.
“I had never heard of any issues with RAP in my career,” he said, but he reviewed the lengthy document.
The study, prepared by professors from Columbia, Rowan, and Stony Brook universities, concludes that RAP “may be used as an unbound material in all environments except those which are highly acidic (pH less than 4) (such as, but not limited to, mines with sulfur-containing minerals or landfills where other materials may decompose creating an acidic environment). Acceptable, beneficial uses of unbound RAP materials may include but are not limited to, using the unbound RAP as surface materials for parking lots, farm roads, or pathways; for quarry reclamation; as non-vegetative cover underneath guide rails; and mixed with other materials for subbase or base materials; in addition to the current uses in hot mix asphalt applications.”
As a precautionary measure, the report recommends determining “the releasable levels of metals and PAHs [polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons] for RAP stockpiles before using RAP in highly acidic environments.” The watershed is not such an environment, town officials said.
The National Institutes of Health defines PAHs as “a group of more than 100 chemicals... released from burning coal, oil, gasoline, trash, tobacco, and wood. High-temperature cooking, such as grilling, will form PAHs in meat and other foods. Manufactured PAHs may be used in medicines and pesticides... (and) can be released naturally from forest fires and volcanoes.” NIH says that “exposure to some PAHs can cause irritation of the eyes and breathing passages and cancer.”
At the January meeting, Short said he had read studies regarding RAP and leaching, and “all of them conclude there is negligible leaching over a reasonable period of time. Anything that does come out is well below whatever (are) the appropriate EPA limits for drinking water. When I first heard this, I was initially concerned. The more I read online, the more it became pretty clear that if there is an issue with leaching or anything dangerous from asphalt materials, it hasn't been identified yet. That made me feel pretty comfortable. We have been using this for years in the watershed. I suspect this was a good issue to be concerned about, but I don't think there is a problem. It's more of a visual or public issue, when you see a big pile of stuff there.”
Speaking from the audience at the January water and sewer meeting, Judith Bruce said it was “very reassuring” to hear the comments from staff and board members, but she continued to be concerned, given the need to manage road runoff, about “taking the top scraping off a roadway and putting it aside” so it's “now sitting in a big pile waiting to leach down into our drinking wells.” She added that the purpose of purchasing the wellhead protection area “wasn't to stockpile materials and maintain the water department. It was intended to protect our drinking water.” She said “the whole town would be more comfortable if we could find a location near the transfer station and farther away from the drinking water well supply.”
Yet, she added, “Based on your responses and all the reports, it's clearly an irrational reaction on my part, but I can't help reacting to the idea of a 30-foot-long, 15-foot-high pile of used roadway that's been chopped up and is waiting for rain to finish washing it clean and have those materials go down into the groundwater we all drink. If there isn't another spot (for it), if that just can't happen, I am reassured there is no imminent threat. Probably the citizenry would be happier if we could hear from DEP or EPA (and have them say) we looked at it, we're perfectly OK with this.”
“I don't think your fears are irrational,” commissioner Herb Kinney told Bruce. “Your suggestion that we get an opinion from someone else would not bother me whatsoever. I'm pretty confident of what I heard, that this material seems to be safe. When they scrape that surface off the roads, a lot of the volatile organic compounds are gone. It's not like you're taking fresh asphalt.”
“The simple solution, and an inexpensive one, would be to put a cover on it and eliminate the possibility of leaching,” chairman John Meyer said. “We could take samples and do testing, (but that's) very expensive. If we put a cover over it and make sure the cover drains all sides from the piles, I would be comfortable with that.”
“That would be fabulous, and I think a lot of people would appreciate that,” Bruce said at the Jan. 16 meeting.