Petroleum-based particles caused by new student housing construction on the southwest corner of East Speedway and North Park Avenue are flowing around midtown unregulated.
The white, hail-size particles in question are polystyrene, a main ingredient of Styrofoam, and originate from “rasping.”
“Rasping” is a finishing process in construction, said Dave Gigger, a construction contractor. When polystyrene boards are installed, rasping smooths the edges for the next processes, netting and priming.
The issue first arose when Tucsonan Roy Goodman brought it to the City Council’s attention last month.
It is solid and white like snow, he said to the council. “The one thing this ‘snow’ does not do is melt away,” he said.
“Most of the ‘snow’ gets blown around by the winds created by nature or by a passing car,” he said. “Some of the ‘snow’ eventually settles in the cracks and crevices of streets and sidewalks, or in landscaping, puddles and storm drains.”
The city and Pima County currently do not have ordinances to regulate polystyrene dispersal from the rasping process.
“Many weeks have gone by without solutions,” Goodman said in an interview. “Nobody seems to know who should be regulating it.”
Ward 6 Councilman Steve Kozachik said he wants to find a “middle ground” and not necessarily ban rasping.
“We’re not adopting something that would prohibit the contractors from using a legitimate product,” he said. “Yet, at the same time, keep them from trashing the city.”
The city planning department should be more “proactive” in trying to solve the situation, he said. If need be, Kozachik said an ordinance should be crafted to “either eliminate the use of that material or force contractors to bag the area.”
However, no such ordinance is in the works, said City Attorney Mike Rankin.
Rankin said the city looked at existing codes to see if any of the building regulations would apply to rasping, but concluded it is “not something within the scope of those codes.”
Ernie Duarte, city planning and development services director, said there are no plans to regulate Styrofoam rasping outside the current requirements.
He said other than informing contractors to prevent as much “rasp” from escaping the interior of a building as possible, there’s little the city can do.
“It’s not any different than sawdust,” he said. “It’s construction. That’s what happens. We told the contractor to keep it (contained). But there’s no regulatory teeth beyond that.”
He also said the effects of rasp are amplified by the height of the structures.
If it was a single story structure, the material would remain around the site, Duarte said. But when you’re constructing a 12-story building, the debris spreads .
In an email statement to the Star, Dave Linneen, senior project manager at Beal Derkenne Construction, a contractor for the student housing unit, said “the Park Avenue Student Housing Project is in full compliance with debris and particle control as overseen by City of Tucson Development Services Code Enforcement Division as well as both Pima County and the State of Arizona Environmental Health.”
The company is not aware of any violations of the law, Linneen said.
But the polystyrene particles are not going away, unless someone cleans them up.
Goodman said construction workers try to clean areas near the site with vacuums, but they overlook other areas up to a half-mile away where particles have traveled.