Georgia officials are hip-deep in an ecological morass as thick as the southern red clay. A plan to expand the scope of the state's 20-year-old environmental protection law will have a great impact on the growing industry that markets plastics to protect the environment.
In the closing days of its legislative session, the Georgia General Assembly this month passed legislation that better defines the point at which dirt stops making water simply dirty and becomes water pollution.
The bill will allow state environmental inspectors to consider ``best management practices'' in preventing pollution at construction sites.
Many of these practices, which are new to contractors, rely heavily on plastics.
Depending on the application, plastics in geotextiles are growing 5-15 percent annually, with the maximum growth in anti-erosion ``blankets'' such as those used in watercourses to counter the effects of fast-moving water, said Wayne Freed, vice president of marketing for Synthetic Industries based in Chickamauga, Tenn.
``We feel [geotextile manufacturers] have only made a 15 percent penetration into the civil engineering community since 1972. Our real question is how we can get more specifiers [technicians charged with specifying materials and counter-erosion techniques] to call for our materials,'' Freed said.
About 150 million pounds of mostly polypropylene and polyethylene is used in civil engineering and geotechnical applications, Freed said. Of that figure, 16.7 million pounds is used in permanent erosion prevention, sedimentation control and blankets, Freed said.
Once enacted, the legislation will produce a greater emphasis on how - and how much - plastics are used in keeping soil in its place at a construction site.
A spokesman for Georgia Lt. Gov. Pierre Howard said the bill will bring environmental laws in line with federal EPA soil management requirements.
A leading proponent of better erosion control techniques is James E. Kundell, a professor at the University of Georgia in Athens.
Kundell chairs two state committees concerned with erosion and its subsequent pollution.
``You can keep the soil in place with plastics; we'll see an increase in the use of plastics to maintain soil. Plastics are underutilized right now,'' Kundell said.
The bill also has its opponents.
Wesley Woolf, vice president of the Georgia Conservancy in Atlanta, said new standards will not help Georgia's abysmally poor inspection record. Only two inspectors must cover all 135 Georgia counties, he said.
``The regulated community is substantially ignorant of the technical solutions to erosion available to them. Since this law so far has not been enforced, developers do not have the incentive to come to the table'' to learn and apply erosion-fighting techniques, Woolf said.