Opening the QDOR

July 2010 » Features » PROGRESSIVE ENGINEERING
A new program takes a scientific approach to choosing the best erosion control materials for the job.
Laurie Honnigford
QDOR can provide a simple way to generate or further refine an Approved Product List for department of transportation-funded construction projects.

As it nears its 20th anniversary as an industry group, the not-for-profit Erosion Control Technology Council (ECTC) is launching another important, forward-driving step on the path to both full maturity of the erosion and sediment control products industry, and security in product selection for users of the materials. In the 1990s, ECTC commissioned an independent laboratory to develop the key index and bench-scale testing that has guided product data since. It was a strong need then, and remains a very important moment in erosion and sediment control. Today, with a developed market characterized by dynamic innovation, rapid adoption of new materials, and a quick expansion in market participation and product class competition, a void has developed. It’s easy to identify which generic product types are relevant solutions, but somewhat difficult to identify the best products — the ones that will perform as expected.

ECTC’s peer-reviewed Quality Data Oversight and Review (QDOR) program has emerged to fill this void. QDOR ensures that product claims match verifiable, objective data on those products. The QDOR stamp, when awarded to products meeting the program’s transparent protocol, provides an easy-to-recognize, easy-to-specify way of ensuring that quality products are being considered and selected.

Verifying performance
One of the most common erosion control material classifications in the market today is rolled erosion control products (RECP). The term RECP is used for a wide range of materials. RECPs come in many individual constructions — products involving straw, wood (e.g., excelsior), coconut, synthetic, and other types of fibers; single nets, double nets, and netless materials; biodegradable thread and synthetic thread; synthetic-backed turf reinforcement mats; et cetera. The number of possible permutations of component materials creates a nearly endless spectrum of potential individual materials.

Each product is intended for particular uses, such as slope or channel erosion control, but the various site conditions alter which products are going to perform best. Slope angle, soil type, climatic conditions, vegetation timeline needs, and potential water velocity moving over the erosion control product are just some of the factors of concern in design and selection. And then, of course, there is the project budget.

The QDOR mark, then, can be an easy way to narrow the vast array of product choices down to higher quality materials that will meet both design and budget performance goals. It is an easily identifiable way to separate the wheat from the chaff — and to do so via a fair, transparent, data-driven system.

It’s the first of its kind for the erosion and sediment control field. And the program is stringent. Participating companies must prove that products are tested in conformance with the requirements of the QDOR manual. All products must have data verified by the laboratory that conducts the testing. An online data collection system is used for detailed collection of information. And, a peer-review protocol must be adhered to.

After all of this, a product is then able to carry the official QDOR logo on its products, product-specific literature, and packaging materials.

ECTC likens its QDOR program to the Underwriters Laboratory (UL) label commonly found on many products, such as high-quality electrical appliances. It’s an apt comparison. Products in the electrical appliance industry may earn the UL label if they meet independent, agreed-upon standards; and whose proof of meeting those standards can be verified.

It’s not an easy mark to earn, but it’s easy to know, trust, and specify, and that helps everyone in the industry: material manufacturers, contractors, and inspectors. Whether it involves wall sockets, washing machines, computer plugs, or components within coffee makers, the easily identifiable product approval stamp can be found. The UL label provides a baseline from which dependable products are considered.

QDOR covers RECPs, with the aim of future expansion to other product disciplines. Through incorporation of state-of-the-art practice standards and with transparent, peer-review of data, end users and specifiers can access an open list of qualified materials with data upon which to author performance-oriented specifications or to find products that meet their own pre-existing specifications. In a nutshell, QDOR is an initial screening program that saves the engineer, contractor, or project owner time and effort in ensuring the use of high-quality erosion control products that will perform as advertised by the manufacturer.

This is relevant for all construction sites, in remediation work, and the many other places in which erosion and sediment control materials are needed — and especially where their successes will be scrutinized.

Any cursory reading of stormwater, environmental, and construction news reveals how important this issue is to building professions today. In department of transportation (DOT) work, for example, QDOR can provide a simple way to generate or further refine an Approved Product List for DOT-funded construction projects. Builders, who are under significant pressure to stop construction site runoff (or face enormous fines), have better assurance that the materials being installed not only meet the general description of erosion and sediment control products necessary for compliance, but also are backed by data-verified performance by which true compliance is ultimately measured.

Regulators and inspectors also benefit from having an easy-to-identify, single-source, objective measure for baseline job site performance, at the root of which is, again, not a particular type of material construction but its actual performance capabilities. Specifications that require a QDOR-stamped erosion control product thus have a verifiable baseline of quality and performance supporting them.

The QDOR stamp, when awarded to products meeting the program’s transparent protocol, provides an easy-to-recognize, easy-to-specify way of ensuring that quality products are being considered and selected.

Will the QDOR stamp make it difficult to find acceptable products, particularly for projects in which one must demonstrate a product evaluation list of a certain size? Certainly not. The industry is full of high-quality materials, but it’s also full of lesser-quality ones. There are a tremendous number of participants in the market, most of whom, as one might expect, make similar claims on performance.

The only way to separate them responsibly and trust that the performance will be there is with data. This is not unique to erosion and sediment control. It is true of other construction material sectors too. It’s simply come time for this in erosion control.

To date, approximately 70 products have been added to the new, openly accessible QDOR database (www.qdor.org). That’s just a small portion of all the available products in the field — and, one can reasonably expect, it represents just the tip of the iceberg for products that will be in QDOR’s database going forward. QDOR is open to any material from any producer, allowing for broad participation and comparison of any material. With all the utility and advantages QDOR provides, material users are responding favorably.

In the field
“There are so many new developments in this field, with respect to types of rolled erosion control products; yet there hasn’t been consistency in the quality in which those products are manufactured,” said Jennifer Hildebrand, CPESC, CPSWQ, CESSWI, CISEC, an environmental compliance director for nationally active Weis Builders, Inc.

Hildebrand isn’t disparaging any specific products, material constructions, or manufacturers. It’s merely a reality of an industry that has expanded so quickly in terms of demand and the number of offerings and suppliers. It’s something that contractors, engineers, specification writers, and others have had to deal with. There hasn’t been a quality-establishing baseline.

One has been needed, Hildebrand said, “because of the onslaught of new products that may or may not be equal to the products that have existed in this industry for years.”

Hildebrand’s opinion is well-informed and well-respected. She carries a number of professional certifications and frequently leads educational sessions around the country on behalf of Weis Builders or even for the International Erosion Control Association. Since QDOR’s earliest stages of development, Hildebrand has been aware of it and offered expert input from the field to ECTC on what she and other professionals might best benefit from, such as in terms of specification support. Here, Weis Builders is a good example of how QDOR can be used. Weis, as a general construction company, doesn’t author specifications, but it must bid on projects according to those projects’ specifications. While a program such as QDOR isn’t something Weis writes into specifications, she can, however, request that erosion control products used on its projects be QDOR listed.

“As long as a product meets the specification that we bid on,” Hildebrand said, “the QDOR listing is a great way to ensure quality. I commend [ECTC] for taking this step. I think the program is strong….It might not be perfect, but it’s the first step in a much-needed quality control program in this industry.”

Next steps
ECTC responded to needs in the field in the 1990s in getting testing and data-collection protocols developed. And the success of that, underscored by the field’s vast expansion, has led to this next step: the QDOR mark that establishes a verifiable performance baseline.

But it’s certainly not complete. For example, as it develops, QDOR will likely incorporate other erosion and sediment control materials, such as hydraulically applied erosion control products and sediment retention products. Discussions are now taking place to establish a home within QDOR for hydraulically applied erosion control products and the many new sediment retention fiber rolls. They deserve the sort of quality support and recognition that QDOR now offers RECPs and their product users.

Essentially, like the UL label, ECTC’s QDOR is adaptable to multiple classes of materials, so long as there are current, applicable standards and performance-oriented data upon which to earn the QDOR label.

Each rolled erosion control product is intended for a particular use, such as slope or channel erosion control, but various site conditions alter which products are going to perform best. QDOR is an initial screening program that saves the engineer time and effort in ensuring the use of high-quality erosion control products that will perform as advertised by the manufacturer.

Laurie Honnigford is the executive director for the Erosion Control Technology Council. She can be contacted at laurie@honnigford.com.


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