Rich Rivkin | Reducing Your Liability and Exposure When Dealing With Contaminated Materials


On this week’s episode of the Business of Environment Podcast, we speak with Rich Rivkin, President of Enviro-Disposal Group. Since 1991, Rich has managed well over 3000 projects involving the transportation and disposal of both hazardous and non-hazardous contaminated soils, dredge sediments, and other environmentally regulated materials. He specializes in the beneficial reuse and recycling of contaminated soils and historic fill. 

Rich’s expertise involves a number of different areas, but the one that is of the most interest to me is his mission to identify the best available option for each of his projects by examining all solutions, simple and complex, and often utilizing multiple disposal facilities in order to get the best price for his clients, all while assuring full regulatory compliance. Rich is well known in the environmental industry, and you’ll soon find out that he’s very passionate about his work.

We chat about what led him down the path of environmental services, as well as: 

  • Some of the biggest challenges he’s faced during his 30 years in the environmental field
  • What you should know about historic fill
  • Beneficial reuse
  • Reducing Liability and exposure when dealing with contaminated materials
  • His advice for successfully navigating the regulatory environment
  • And more

Listen now...

Mentioned in this episode:


Mark Roman: Welcome everyone to the Business of Environment Podcast, where we explore insights on the intersection of business, the environment, and regulation. I'm your host, Mark Roman. I've been looking forward to today's podcast because joining us is Rich Rivkin, president of Enviro-Disposal Group. Since 1991, Rich has managed well over 3000 projects involving the transportation and disposal of both hazardous to non-hazardous contaminated soils, dredged sediments and other environmentally regulated materials. 

Rich's company provides the services across our entire country. And he specializes in the beneficial reuse and recycling of contaminated soils and historic fill. Rich's expertise involves a lot of areas, but one of the biggest interest to me is his mission to identify the best available options for each project where Rich really looks at all solutions, whether simple or complex, and sometimes utilizes multiple disposal facilities in order to get the best price for his clients. 

All at the same time, assuring full regulatory compliance, which is extremely important. Rich is well known in the environmental industry, and you'll soon find out that he's very passionate about his work. If you ask any of his longtime loyal clients how best to describe Rich, well, some typical feedback you get is he's, you know, Rich is our go-to guy for disposal. 

There's no one else we consider to call other than Rich. He provides valuable feedback with cost-effective solutions and low-risk alternatives. And he provides this all in a very quick timeframe. And Rich's clients all say that's quite evident that he truly cares about what he does and he absolutely loves his work. And you know what, you can't ask for much more than that in the environmental services field. Welcome, Rich to the Business of Environment Podcast.

Rich Rivkin: Thanks very much, Mark. I really appreciate it.

Mark: Rich, beyond the brief bio, can you let everybody know a little bit more about your background and what the path was that took you down into this road of environmental services?

Rich: Sure thing. You bet, Mark. I guess ever since I was a kid, I always had a passion for science and technology, and environment as well. And my early career found me as an engineering and technical services recruiter for a firm that assigned engineers and various technical personnel to projects around the country, typically for six months to a year. And that business of mine was particularly focused on the power plant engineering and design world, both of fossil fuels and nuclear power plants. 

And in fact, in the 80s, I had traveled around the country, I think, 20 or 21, nuclear power plants from coast to coast. And during my travels, I had become aware during the late 80s, I think it was that asbestos abatement was something where the demand was expected to pick up quite briskly based on new regulations. 

And I pivoted into that business in the late 80s and had some very good years until we had experienced some diminishing returns in the market, at which point, I had some existing contacts in the environmental consulting world. And through those contacts, I had started for companies that was involved with environmental consulting. And from there, a couple of years later, I had recognized that regulations were kicking in for contaminated soil disposal. Something that had not been previously regulated started to be regulated. 

I believe it was 1990. So by 1991, I had gotten into the contaminated soil transportation and disposal business, and it's been quite a ride ever since. I remember back in the old days, speaking with my colleagues at the time, telling them that I thought that there would be about maybe a seven-year duration for contaminated soil market, after which we might start to experience diminishing returns since so much of our business back then was driven by leaking tanks, leaking petroleum tanks, etc. 

And once they were replaced with the fiberglass double wall tanks, that those tanks would typically not leak for the rest of our lives. So I'm happy to say that I was wrong about my prognostication. And here going into my 29th year in the business, we've never been busier. Taking COVID into consideration, it has impacted the business this particular year. But the last few years have been fantastic for us. And even this year, the last quarter is shaping up rather nicely. So business is still healthy.

Mark: Well, I'm glad to hear that. Tell us a little bit about, more about your company, Enviro-Disposal Group. And when did you get that started?

Rich: Sure. I started the company, it'll be 10 years come February. Our main mission is to identify the most cost-effective solution for our clients' projects while assuring full compliance to all applicable laws and regulations. And what I've said through the years is that for any individual contaminated soil project, there is always one single best-case scenario for the solution, which is both compliant and most cost-effective. I am familiar with the acceptance criteria at all 30, approximately 30 of the disposal recycling beneficial reuse facilities that are accessible to us in this particular market. 

Actually have a comprehensive knowledge of the acceptance criteria. So in my day to day travels as I'm reviewing analytical reports, I'm going through page by page and I'm making mental notes as I'm reading the various detection levels of the contaminants and just sort of keeping a running tally as to which facilities are permitted to accept that particular soil based on the analytical results. 

Mark: Excellent. You've been involved in the disposal field, like you said, the environmental field itself going on 30 years. And what have been some of the biggest challenges and changes that you've encountered over that time frame? I mean, we're still in COVID-19 a pandemic. You know, that's a challenge to the whole world, essentially. But what challenges and changes have you been affected by over this extensive timeframe?

Changes in Environmental Regulations

Rich: You bet. Challenges, I would say that there were a couple of time periods where business has slowed down as the economy has slowed down. I could think back to maybe 2009, 2010. Real estate activity, construction activity was not as brisk as it is today. And that was a more challenging time. Since those times I would say changes have been not so much challenging, but even potentially translating into an opportunity for us in the business. 

For example, regulatory changes that might redefine soil classifications. For example, this past January, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection had changed the definition of what qualifies as Pennsylvania cleanfill from an analytical standpoint. They had tightened up those guidelines and what used to qualify as Pennsylvania cleanfill no longer does. That was a pretty big change in the industry which serve to divert soils, it might have gone to one or a couple of different facilities at one point which now have to go to a whole different category of permitted facilities. 

Other changes have been along the lines of let's say, some facilities have received modifications to their permits where, for example, they might be granted expanded limits chemically, where for example, the previous year, their acceptance limit for total lead detected in soil may be at one particular level, and the following year, it could have been raised. We've also had situations where regulatory changes had caused the limits to be decreased. 

One example for that is benzo(a)pyrene a PAH compound, which the New Jersey DDP has been changing the limits on. I can think of three particular limits that have applied through the years. And that has also changed the classification for New Jersey, what qualifies for the New Jersey residential category, as another example. Otherwise, changes typically on are relatively infrequent in our business that I've observed that through the decades. At least as they relate to contaminated soil transportation and disposal. 

Mark: Okay, one relatively recent issue that has come to the forefront in environmental is the term historic fill. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about, you know, what exactly is considered to be historic fill? You know, our listeners need to understand that, you know, historic fill can be found on your property, even though they may never have had any, you know, evidence of spills or releases on your property.

Rich:  Yes, very true. So a technically historic fill is defined as non-indigenous material that includes soil, and as well as construction and demolition debris, dredge spoils, incinerator residue, fly ash and the potentially non-hazardous solid waste. I've also come across numerous projects involving historic fill where there may not have been those debris components that I mentioned, but where there may be contamination from unknown sources. 

Let's say from nonspecific sources where the sources of release weren't known per se. But one example that we come across quite frequently is historic fill in New York City area, five boroughs or even the North Jersey area, where some of these properties are located along well-traveled thoroughfares where, for example, you have vehicle exhaust and emissions that had been spewing through the years and decades. 

And ultimately, some of that will actually settle on the soil. Incrementally through the years, you can have some buildup of polyaromatic hydrocarbon compounds, PAH as well as some metals that can be detected and historic fill. And as far as the disposal options for historic fill, typically, you've got recycling facilities that can take this material as well as beneficial reuse facilities that can take the historic fill soils that meet the acceptance criteria. Of course, landfills can take it as well, but that tends to be a more costly option.

Mark: Yeah, and, you know, speaking of landfilling, you know, we often hear when, as a consultant, when we're discussing disposal options or remedial options for impacted soil at a client's property. Many times when we talk about disposal, our clients say, well, you know, that's not really a green option for us for remediation soil disposal. But that's not really true. I mean, you keyed on a couple of key terms here, recycling and beneficial reuse for soil disposal. Can you elaborate a little bit more on soil disposal options? 

Options for Compliant Soil Disposal 

Rich: Yeah, sure thing, Mark. Yeah, absolutely. So, in terms of non-hazardous contaminated soil, typically, we do have those three categories. Landfilling, which is considered, it's actually subtitled the permitted landfills. All the landfills now are carrying that subtitle D permit, they tend to be the most costly of the three categories. Then you've got the permitted soil recycling facilities, which will actually treat the non-haz soil using various methodologies prior to reusing the soil. 

And those methods typically are thermal disruption, which involves low-temperature disruption using a rotary kiln, which volatilizes the organic contaminants and it renders it to a non-regulated, targeted level. And then you've got the bioremediation, like off-site bioremediation is something that's done in New Jersey, actually at the Clean Earth Carteret Facility, and they accept soils and put them in vessels that contain microbes and nutrients and then the bioremediation process will remediate that material and remove the organic contaminants over a period of time before the material was beneficially reused. 

Then a third recycling method is asphalt batching which include, which would involve putting the soil into a pugmill and then adding an asphalt cement to effectively encapsulate the soil and render the contaminants non-leachable. It doesn't treat the contaminants themselves, doesn't remove them, but does render them non-leachable. 

And then that material can be beneficially reused as sub-base material typically for road paving. And then the other category for disposal these days is beneficial reuse, which entails reusing soils without treatment first. And that situation can be found at various brownfield sites in New Jersey, which, for example, are permitted by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, where they would be permitted to receive soils, including historic fills often, that meet their acceptance criteria. 

And the acceptance criteria is usually based upon the existing levels of contamination at those brownfield sites. So, the state will allow some lower level contaminated material to be used essentially to bring these properties, these Brownfield properties up to grade so that they can then be redeveloped in some useful fashion. In terms of cost, the beneficial reuse is the lowest cost. 

And then recycling is the next lowest cost and subtitle de-landfilling is typically the most costly. And where these processes are conducted these days is in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. You have a handful of facilities that are permitted for recycling in New Jersey and a couple, just a few in Pennsylvania. But also we have, I would say, the better part of maybe 10 to 12 beneficial reuse sites between New Jersey and Pennsylvania, which we access on a regular basis for our client projects here in the metro New York, New Jersey region.

Mark: Okay. You know, speaking of projects, like I said earlier on in your intro, I find your mission statement really fascinating, looking at all the best available options, but not necessarily bringing all of the waste to one facility. You know, you're targeting multiple disposal facilities to optimize these costs, savings and while at the same time ensuring full regulatory compliance for your clients. Can you provide a couple of examples of where you did that for your clients?

Locating the Route to Optimize Cost Savings

Rich: Sure. I mean, typically, the larger the volume of soil to remove at any given site, the greater the chance that a complex solution would be warranted in order to incorporate the greatest cost savings. And this does often entail targeting multiple disposal facilities for soils that carry different waste classifications. I can recall one pretty large project in particular, that required targeting five different facilities in order to minimize the TND costs. 

I think it was close to about 100,000 tons. And the property had included, I think there's five categories where we had to find a facility to conduct treatment and disposal of hazardous lead soil characteristically hazardous for lead. Also, treatment and disposal of listed hazardous chlorinated solvent impacted soil. And we found the most cost-effective facility for that and Canada. 

Also, that project had entailed recycling of soils that it contained moderate to high levels of petroleum compounds. We were able to recycle that in New Jersey. And also, it had entailed the beneficial reuse of some of the historic fill soils at the site. Some of those materials had contained lower levels of contaminants. And we had actually targeted two different beneficial reuse facilities based on some of the Geotech variables that we had detected relating to the material. So that's sort of a typical situation that might involve a complex solution where we would target a number of facilities. 

That project, in particular, had something for most of the categories, which is why I wanted to mention that. But typically, we may have job sites that will have, you know, 5, 10 thousand tons of soil. And let's say the majority of it may qualify for beneficial reuse in Pennsylvania, which tends to be a very cost-effective option. But the sections that had exceeded the acceptance criteria for reuse in Pennsylvania. Portions of that again, may have gone for recycling in New Jersey. 

And in fact, it's not unusual that we'll have some larger projects. For example, some sections or some sample grids that may exceed the acceptance criteria of the recycling facility or the reuse facility for total. That's a corporate pretty often that we find. And in that situation, we would target a Subtitle D permitted landfill. So again, it's a matter of the, with the greatest possible precision, to carve out the various delineated categories and then find the lowest cost and compliance facility for that particular category.

Mark: So the key to a lot of this is the characterization of the wastes it sounds like. And I know, a lot of our clients just struggle with that. Is that, you know, if a company retains Rich Rivkin, do you handle, you know, everything from soup to nuts, if you will, characterization all the way through the recommendation for disposal?

Rich: Yeah, so we can guide that the characterization. It's something that we don't self-perform, and we would typically sub that out, you know, to one of the labs and have a technician come on-site and handle what the lab work, once the lab report is issued, we take it from there. So I'm able to review the lab report in detail, interpret that data and make some determination as to what would be the most suitable, basically the most cost-effective and compliant disposal facility option for that material with the mission of cost minimization. 

Mark: Okay. The other side of your mission statement where, you know, ensuring full regulatory compliance is so important because when it comes to waste disposal, there's always that underlying concerns regarding risks and liabilities. You know, nobody wants to be the next PRP at the next super fun case. So, and what we find with a lot of companies, as many companies make the mistake of believing, hey, once their waste leaves their facility, they don't need to worry about it anymore. 

You know, and that's not true as you and I know. Especially when it comes to hazardous waste under the Resource Conservation Recovery Act, the cradle to grave regulation, where you're responsible for your waste from generation through accumulation and storage, transportation and all the way through disposal. Do you have any suggestions for our listeners on how they can go about reducing such liabilities and exposures?

Rich: Sure, you bet. I've observed that that liability exposure is actually decreased in general through the years, you know, since 1991, when I came into the business, you know, the phrase, PRP, potentially responsible parties, was thrown around quite a lot. Since those days as a result of all the problems with PRP liability, that issue has been addressed more thoroughly. So for example, landfills Subtitle D permitted landfills will typically take ownership of the soil once they've approved it and received it and will actually provide indemnification for the generator, for the property owner moving forward ad infinitum. 

So that's something that did not exist prior to the advent of the Subtitle D landfill permitting. In addition to that, recycling also tends to be more protective of the generator's liability as compared to some other disposal options, especially the thermal disruption recycling option, which actually does destroy the contaminants before the soil is then reused. 

And by the way, once the soil is recycled and traded at the non-haz facilities, it will typically be reused as daily cover material at nearby landfills. Whereas the landfills that require, you know, truckloads of soil every day, essentially, to cover the layer of garbage for dust suppression, for odor suppression. So they typically have long-term arrangements in place with the various recycling facilities, which is beneficial for both the local county landfills that use the soilless cover, as well as recycling facilities that regenerate the soil, you know, through their processing method. 

So, again, the generator liability is something that we don't hear as much about these days in terms of litigation as we had in the 1990s. And I think that as the industry has matured, I think awareness and knowledge has also increased on the part of the property owners as well as the consultants that guide them. But we do find that the liability associated with contaminated soil seems to be less of a concern these days than it was, you know, 20, 30, 40 years ago.

Mark: Yeah, what we're seeing a lot of exposure for clients is the disposal facility or company that they're using to take care of their waste materials. You know, a lot of times we find companies looking at this solely on price. But what we always recommend that before retaining a company, is they do a little bit of homework on them. 

You know, make sure they're financially strong, run a DMB report on them, make sure they have a good compliance history, and make sure they've been around awhile, like yourself. You know, you've been in here, you know, in the business for three decades. You don't want to hire a fly by night company to handle your waste needs because, you know, no matter how attractive that price is, you want somebody that knows what they're doing, and they know all of the viable and compliance options you have in front of you.

Rich: Yeah, absolutely. And along those lines, you know, where that had been an issue with some of the various players in the past, over the past year or two in the state of New Jersey, they have instated the A901 permitting, which has been expanded to not just the transporters, but basically anybody that's involved with even arranging for contaminated soil of transportation disposal. 

So companies like us are also required to be A901 permitted and to go through that process. There's pretty comprehensive vetting in order to receive that permitting. So if you're dealing with a company that's received that level of certification, it's usually so that you can feel comfortable with, to move forward with

Mark: Alright, great. Sound advice. We all have demanding schedules and limited time on our hands. And, you know, one of the biggest challenges I hear from many involved in the environmental services field, whether a client or a service provider is staying in tune with environmental regulations. You know, especially with disposal regulations, you probably have to spend, you know, good chunk of time keeping up with regulatory changes. And I'd like to ask you, how do you do that? And what makes, what do you believe make some successful navigating that regulatory environment while others struggle with it?

Keeping Current With Regulations

Rich: Sure, I think, well, I have to keep my eye on various websites in New York, DEC, New Jersey, DEP, Pennsylvania, DEP for any bulletins or change that might come down the pike. But I'd say even from a more practical standpoint, you know, I have conversations with the various disposal facilities, reuse recycling facilities, almost on a daily basis. And these are the guys that are at the front lines and would be made aware of the regulatory changes, probably first. 

So typically, I'll hear of any news or bulletins, you know, through my contacts at the facilities, sometimes even before I see it posted it at the state agency website. So it's sort of an ongoing back and forth on a day to day basis in terms of communicating with the facilities to stay updated with what's happening with the news of the day.

Mark: Yeah, I always recommend our clients, don't be afraid to pick up the phone and call somebody and talk. You tend to get a lot more information out of just communicating the old fashioned way, you know? Using words rather than letters on a computer screen. Spoken word rather than letters, you know, emails and stuff like that.

Rich: Exactly. You know, and I find that the community of individuals that are active in this contaminated soil arena, especially in this region, it's somewhat insular. We've all known each other for many years. And there's an ease of communication. We all speak the same language, we all understand the same nuances, which are, in some cases, quite complex. And unless you've been in this business for at least a decade, you typically haven't had a sufficient opportunity to go through the learning curve. 

Unless you've had, you know, at least five to 10 years of conversations with people about contaminated soil between, you know, property owners and clients and contractors and consultants and regulators and facilities and laboratories, each of those conversations, you'll pick up knowledge, which is essential. So, you know, I like to say that, you know, after 29 years in the business, there's nothing new under the sun when it comes to contaminated soil that I've seen. 

And that typically is true, but from time to time, we do have a new wrinkle that comes into play. And for example, we have the PFAS, the peripheral alkyl family of compounds, the forever chemicals, PFOAS, PFAS, which I think will be an up and coming area of concern. One that we'll all be learning more about. And that particular topic is a moving target as of now because the regulators are still in discussions as to the permitting that's required by the disposal facilities to safely accept these materials on a permanent basis. 

And I know that there is a pilot project that's taking place now in the state of New York with one of the recycling facilities that's in the process of doing some experimental treatment with that PFOS category, which is something that your listeners have heard about over the last year or so and will be talking about much more over the next years to come. And I have a feeling that this will be a real point of attention for us all in the environmental consulting field.

Mark: Yeah, you know, that's a great segue to plug this podcast because we're actually working on a PFOSS podcast right now, which is forthcoming in the near future. So listeners stay tuned for that. Rich, what's your number one piece of advice for businesses dealing with potential environmental disposal challenges?

Understand Soil Waste Classification

Rich: Sure, to understand soil waste classification, which also requires, you know, some at least basic understanding of how to interpret the soil analytical data. But once there is some knowledge in terms of classifying material, it's of paramount importance to know what next step to take. And to give you a couple of examples of what some of those classifications are. 

At least, you know, here in the metro New York, New Jersey market, you've got Pennsylvania cleanfill, Pennsylvania regulated fill, New Jersey residential material, you've got ID27, which is New Jersey regulated material, you've got some New York classifications as well. But those are the main categories of non-hazardous categories. And if we were to talk about the wreck or hazardous categories, that may be a topic for a whole other phone interview.

Mark: Not just one either. Okay, Rich, on a personal note, can you share with our audience an interest or hobby that you enjoy doing?

Rich: Sure. You bet. I am a hand percussionist. I play conga drums and bongos and jam bay, African drums and whatnot. I've also performed in various bands through the years. I've been a bandleader. I had led a jazz-funk fusion instrumental project for about eight years in the past. And my other hobby is music festival production. I am actually one of Long Island's most prominent Music Festival producers. 

And since 2001, I've produced a total of 46 music festivals at various scenic park locations located throughout Long Island. And these days, my flagship festivals, at least in a normal year, non-COVID year, would include the Woodstock Revival, which takes place every June. A two-day event at a big park here in Long Island. And that Grateful Fest, which takes place every September. And we've had, oh boy, thousands, maybe even 10s of thousands of people that have attended these festivals since 2001. 

Mark: There you go. Well, Rich, thanks very much for taking the time to join us today. And if any of our listeners want to get in touch with you, whether for your environmental disposal services or your musical festivals, how would they do that?

Rich: You bet. You can email me, And also call me 1-800USTSOIL. That's 800-878-7645. You can also check out the website"

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