For the benefit of our readers unfamiliar with the standards the State of Michigan has set for environmental contamination, we thought it would be helpful to explain why the soil that the developers of The Boardwalk (f.k.a. the Berkey & Gay furniture factory) dumped at illegal landfills in the Grand Rapids are constitutes hazardous waste and why it is dangerous to you and the environment.
What do you mean by "hazardous waste" and "contaminated soil"?
In the "Toxic Towers" articles we mean nothing less than materials that are toxic to you and the environment. The soil of the Boardwalk project site was contaminated with two dozen hazardous substances in concentrations dangerous to human life and health. Therefore, this contaminated soil is a hazardous waste regulated by state and federal statutes to prevent it from coming into contact with you, your family, and the environment.
To sum up, when we say "hazardous waste" or "contaminated soil", we mean poison.
What is a hazardous substance?
It is a dangerous contaminant, such as the ones found throughout the soil of the Boardwalk project site. It is one of the hundreds of metals and chemicals that the federal government has identified (and the State of Michigan has adopted) as toxic to human life and health if present in a certain concentration. The hazardous substances found in the soil of the Boardwalk before its redevelopment included lead, mercury, arsenic, phenanthrene, and several other metals and chemicals.
What is the importance of the concentration of a hazardous substance?
Briefly, it determines whether or not it is toxic to you. Some substances we would normally think of as always poisonous, such as arsenic, pose no threat if its concentration is very low in materials like soil or water. Conversely, other substances we think of as innocuous, like zinc, are in fact poisons when concentrations get too high.
Two dozen hazardous substances were found in the soil of the Boardwalk project site that were in concentrations toxic to human life and health, according to the standards set by the State of Michigan. This is unsurprising because the old furniture factory had been built upon "urban fill" -- i.e., industrial waste -- and manufacturing operations were carried out there for over a century.
What standards did the Boardwalk soil violate?
Safe drinking water, ambient air, and direct contact standards. This means that the soil of the Boardwalk project site was poisonous to drinking water, poisonous to the air in its immediate vicinity, and poisonous to the touch. Therefore, the developers of The Boardwalk were obligated under state and federal law to:
 Prevent the high concentrations of lead in the Boardwalk's soil from getting into our drinking water supply (i.e., the groundwater and system system flowing into the Grand River, which in turn flows into Lake Michigan);
 Make sure workers and visitors at the Boardwalk project site were equipped with breathing apparatuses that protected them from inhaling the poisonous phenanthrene the soil was releasing into the ambient air;
 Make sure workers and visitors at the Boardwalk project site were wearing protective clothing to prevent prolonged direct contact with the hazardous metals and chemicals contaminating the site's soil.
What did the Boardwalk developers do to protect us and the environment from the contaminated soil they were removing from the project site?
Nothing. In fact, the Boardwalk developers falsely portrayed the project site's soil as uncontaminated so that they could move around the site and transport it off-site for permanent disposal without any controls to prevent hazardous exposure to the site's workers, visitors, neighbors, and the general public.
Where is the Boardwalk soil now?
We know that about 20,000 tons of it (roughly a pile the size of a nine-story building) was illegally dumped onto the grounds of the old Monroe Avenue Water Filtration Plant, a nationally registered historic landmark recently re-christened as "Clearwater Plaza". We believe another 6,000 tons has been illegally dumped at other locations in the Grand Rapids vicinity. The developers refused to tell authorities where these other dumpsites are.
Therefore, this hazardous waste that had once been contained at its source, The Boardwalk, has now been spread around our City. The extent of the danger remains unknown.