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Interview: The Spirit of Cooperation

Since its inception two-and-a-half years ago
to serve the burgeoning erosion control materials industry, Subcommittee D18.25 on Erosion and Sediment Control Technology has published six standards and has many more in the pipeline. The subcommittee’s formation in 1997 (after an industry trade group found its effort to develop standards outstripped its ability to do so) and its productivity are prime examples of how ASTM’s process benefits emerging industries. SN interviews Dwight Cabalka about the subcommittee he chairs.


What are the materials D18.25 standardizes?
There are basically four default practices for controlling erosion that have been in use for many years. Straw can be blown by machines onto slopes as one way to control erosion. Silt fence is the black fencing you see about the perimeter of a construction site and occasionally at ditches, and it is used as a way to slow water and hopefully capture sediment in ditches. The third is bale checks where hay and straw bales are in place in channels, and they also create a little dam, a retention basin, to capture sediment. The last material is loose-placed rock, also referred to as riprap. In terms of cost vs. performance, all these are certainly on the cheap end.

What was happening in the erosion control industry at the time of the formation of D18.25?
In 1992, the Clean Water Act was amended to add some initial regulations for construction site stormwater management, dictating that any time a construction site was created that was at least five acres in size it had to meet runoff requirements and water quality requirements related to the Clean Water Act. In a nutshell, what those requirements said was that the site cannot discharge more pollutants—and it defines sediment as a pollutant—into receiving waters than it did prior to the disturbance of the environment. During and after construction, both temporary and permanent practices must be put in place to ensure that this was being tended to. In the fall of ’99 that act was amended again, and in that amending the area threshold dropped from two down to one acre. Some states are going even further—one state is basically taking the EPA requirements down to a 2000 square-foot disturbance—which is about the size of a single-family home.

What does your subcommittee’s cross-section of stakeholders offer your industry?
In Subcommittee D18.25, I like to say, we understand the guy driving the bulldozer and the guy who’s chained himself to it. As manufacturers of these materials, we are in both realms, as a happy medium, so that construction does not take place with total disregard for environmental quality. We also understand that these projects—roads, pipelines, airports, solid waste containment facilities, residential commercial development, even golf courses, and so on—all have their value to society. We believe that it’s important to have the development that these represent. And each standard as it goes into use will help define how to achieve the objective of the construction project without creating a major impact on water quality as a result of erosion.
Erosion sediment control is a comparatively new technology. Without standards, everyone is left to their own judgment regarding materials performance characteristics, installation requirements, and how a material can be used in a given environment. Standards allow people to receive reliable information about materials performance characteristics, installation requirements, and how a material can be used in a given field without short-circuiting their own knowledge process.

Why did the erosion control industry choose ASTM for its standards development needs?

In about the late 1980s, the International Erosion Control Association set up a committee to develop standards for these materials. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the protocol in place to deal with the standardization process of voting, balloting, and so forth. And if the IECA were able to create the standards and publish them, there was a certain level of concern about liability issues once they were in the marketplace. Lastly, with all due respect to the IECA, which is a well-known organization in our industry, it’s important to recognize that in the construction industry as a whole, as it relates particularly to civil engineers and landscape architects, there’s already a fairly significant body of work that’s been created through ASTM that is well understood. So for those three reasons, IECA decided in 1996 to shift standards development from their own Committee on Standards to ASTM.

Given the acceptance of ASTM standards within the construction community, who will be the major users of these documents?
We’re aiming to develop four types of standards. One type is for material characteristics, so we can identify the physical characteristics of these products; another is installation requirements, so that they function properly. Then, once we know the materials and how to install them, we need to standardize how well they perform their function—and a lot of that revolves around how well they keep soil in place, or how well they enhance re-vegetation of the site. The final standard type regards application: where can they be used and how can you go about doing design work to support the use of the given practice?
Taken as a whole, then, virtually everyone in the industry is interested in these standards. Obviously material suppliers and manufacturers have an interest in material qualities, but they also have an interest in installation, since market failure due to what are actually installation problems are often levied back on the manufacurer as material problems. Contractors are certainly going to be interested in the installation guidelines. The designers are going to be interested in what the material characteristics are, knowing how to put together a construction document that will reference these standards to assure that they’re put in properly from a design standpoint. And a progressive owner—the end user, in a sense—is going to want to know what’s going on in their project. Basically, representatives of all aspects related to significant earthwork disturbance activities are going to be interested. //

Dwight Cabalka is national applications engineer with American Excelsior in Littleton, Colo., and is chairman of D18.25.

Subcommittee D18.25 is part of Main Committee D18 on Soil and Rock.

If you are interested in participating in the work of D18.25, contact ASTM staff manager Bob Morgan
(610/832-9732) or see
Committee D18’s Web site at at the Technical Committees link.