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NYC Clean Soil Bank

The NYC Clean Soil Bank (CSB) is a non-profit and no-cost soil exchange operated by the NYC Mayor’s Office of Environmental Remediation that enables clean native soil excavated from deep below the ground surface during construction of new buildings in NYC to be directly transferred to nearby construction projects that need soil.

No. The NYC Clean Soil Bank is a virtual exchange that matches projects in NYC that are generating surplus clean native soil with projects that need soil for new construction so that the soil can be transported directly between these sites. This is the most sustainable approach available for recycling of soil.

Research shows that a large quantity of clean native soil is generated each year during construction in NYC and almost all of it is transported out of the city for use elsewhere. Similarly, when NYC projects need clean soil, it is typically purchased from commercial facilities outside of the city. Clean soil is one of NYC’s most valuable natural resources and the NYC Clean Soil Bank was created to promote greater retention of these resources for use in our city.

There are many benefits of the NYC Clean Soil Bank. Because we pair projects in close proximity, the CSB is the most environmentally protective approach to soil recycling. This is because transport distances are kept to a minimum and fossil fuel consumption from trucking is reduced by about 70% compared to traditional soil recycling or disposal methods. In the first three years of operation, the CSB has lowered truck transportation by over 1,600,000 miles and reduced diesel fuel consumption by 400,000 gallons. By lowering fuel consumption, we have also reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 2,300 tons and lowered many other types of truck exhaust pollution emissions. Direct exchange between construction projects also eliminates use of soil processing facilities and lowers the burden these facilities pose in environmental justice communities in our city.

By retaining clean native NYC soil we are also preserving the original soil character of the city and since these soils are excavated from deep below the ground surface, they don’t contain seeds or pollen from invasive plant species. As a result, use of this locally-sourced soil enables biologists to ‘reset’ our city’s soil biology and promote native biodiversity. Recycling of clean soil generated during construction also conserves important soil resources in the region.

Use of the CSB lowers cost of soil management by about 85%. This is because soil transport is greatly reduced and soil disposal fees and purchase costs are eliminated. In its first three years, the NYC Clean Soil Bank has saved participants approximately $35 million.

Soil comes from deepest excavations on new building construction projects that are making space for basements and underground parking garages. The soil usually comes from a depth of ten feet or greater. All soil donor projects are governed by the NYC Office of Environmental Remediation (OER) which is also working to make sure that new building construction is safe for workers, community members and future residents. Experience has shown that shallow soil on land in NYC and most cities contains light or moderate pollution from sources like vehicle exhaust pollution. These shallow soils and fill material are not eligible for recycling in the CSB and instead are shipped for disposal at government-licensed disposal facilities.

Because the soil from the CSB is obtained from deep below the land surface, it is among the highest quality soil available in the tri-state area. All soil in the CSB is sampled and chemically tested for a broad range of environmental contaminants prior to excavation and transport. Chemical tests performed on hundreds of samples indicate that the soil meets the most stringent standards established for public health and environmental protection by the New York State Department of Health. As an added protection, during excavation, the soil is inspected by an environmental professional who also formally certifies the quality of each truck load. Soil is transported with manifests and is inspected again after it is unloaded at the receiving facility. The process is inspected by OER and representative soil samples may be taken after soil is placed at its new location.

Highly contaminated properties are not eligible to donate soils to the NYC Clean Soil Bank. Each prospective property is subjected to a full environmental site history to determine past uses that may have caused soil pollution (called a Phase 1 study). After this is complete, a full environmental study is performed (called a Remedial Investigation) and the results are evaluated to determine eligibility.

Because soil is delivered at no charge, we strongly favor government construction projects in order to lower the cost that taxpayers pay for soil purchase on new construction. In the first five years, the CSB has saved taxpayers about $5 million. Projects that improve social equity by balancing environmental quality in our city and projects that are working with government to remediate land contamination are also prioritized.

In its first five years of operation, the CSB has had about 100 separate exchanges and transferred over 460,000 tons of clean native soil.

Soil from the CSB has been used in many important ways. Sixty percent of the soil has been used on projects that make the city more resilient to climate change. These include projects for raising land elevation in flood prone areas and creation of fresh water and tidal wetlands. Ten percent of the soil has been used to remediate contaminated land. The remainder has been used as deep fill and to shape land surfaces..

Not to our knowledge. While soil exchange has been established at the national level in several countries, the NYC Clean Soil Bank appears to be the first city-run program to promote direct exchange of soil between construction projects and to retain soil within the city. However, based on the positive experience in NYC, we highly recommend its use by other cities in the U.S. and abroad.

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