Skip to contentUnited States Department of Transportation - Federal Highway Administration FHWA Home
Research Home
This report is an archived publication and may contain dated technical, contact, and link information
Publication Number: FHWA-RD-97-148

User Guidelines for Waste and Byproduct Materials in Pavement Construction

[ Material Description ] [ Asphalt Concrete ]


FOUNDRY SAND User Guideline

Flowable Fill


Ferrous spent foundry sand can be used as substitute for natural sand (fine aggregate) in flowable fill(1,2). Natural sand is a major component of most flowable fill mixes. Spent sands from nonferrous foundries and foundry baghouse dust can contain high concentrations of heavy metals that may preclude their use in flowable fill applications.

Flowable fill or controlled low strength material (CLSM) is generally composed of a mixture of sand, fly ash from coal-fired power plants, a small amount of cement, water, and admixtures. It is defined by the ACI Committee 229(3) as a cementitious material that is in a flowable state at the time of placement and that has a specified compressive strength of 1400 kPa (200 lb/in2) or less at 28 days. This makes it possible for the material to be removed should future excavation be necessary. The applications of flowable fill are numerous and include restoration of utility cuts in county roads, backfilling structures, filling abandoned wells, filling voids under existing pavements, and pipe embedments. (See references 4,5,6,7,8 and 9.)

The specifications in most jurisdictions for flowable fill materials require that aggregates satisfy ASTM C33.(9) While spent foundry sand may not satisfy the gradation requirements of ASTM C33 for fine aggregates, the uniform, spherical nature of the particles produces a relatively free-flowing mixture.



There has been limited reported use of spent foundry sand in flowable fills or cementitious applications. It is reportedly being used in flowable fill applications in the Buffalo, New York area.(10) Pennsylvania has reported successful use of foundry sand as a sand substitute in flowable fill. Illinois, however, has tried spent foundry sand and considered such use unsuitable due to poor performance or economics.(11)



Crushing and Screening

It may be necessary to crush the spent foundry sand to reduce the size of oversize core butts or uncollapsed molds. The spent foundry sand can also be screened and oversize material (from molds and cores that have not completely collapsed) removed.

Quality Control

For spent foundry sand to be suitable as a replacement for fine aggregate in flowable fill, it should be free of objectionable material such as wood, garbage, and metal that can be introduced at the foundry. It should be free of foreign material and thick coatings of burnt carbon, binders, and mold additives that could inhibit cement hydration.

Storage and Blending

Stockpiles of sufficient size should be accumulated and blended so that a consistent gradation can be achieved before transferring the material to ready-mix concrete plants/flowable fill producers.(12) Where it is specified that aggregates must satisfy the requirements of ASTM C33, the spent foundry sand must be blended with natural or other suitable fine aggregate materials to meet gradation requirements. The presence of organics (from some binder systems such as bentonite clay) may exceed ASTM C33 criteria and must therefore be closely monitored.



Some of the engineering properties of spent foundry sand that are of particular interest when foundry sand is used in flowable fill applications include particle shape, gradation, strength characteristics, soundness, deleterious substances, and corrosivity.

Particle Shape: The grain size distribution of spent foundry sand is more uniform and somewhat finer than conventional concrete sand.(13) The fineness of spent foundry sand contributes to good suspension, limiting segregation of flowable fill. The spherical shape of spent foundry sand particles contributes to good flow characteristics. However, increased particle fineness and sphericity also result in lower strength bearing capacity (CBR) of the hardened flowable fill.(14)

Gradation: Spent foundry sand may not satisfy the ASTM C33 gradation requirement for concrete aggregate and, therefore, it may need to be blended with natural sand or other suitable fine aggregate materials to meet the requirements.

Strength Characteristics: Although some organic binder materials can interfere with cement hydration, low (rather than high) strength development is in most cases more desirable with flowable fill to permit excavation at a later date. It has been reported that the flowable fill incorporating spent foundry sand aggregates, fly ash, a small quantity of Portland cement, and water readily satisfies specified limited strength criteria.(15)

Soundness: The performance of spent foundry sands in soundness tests depends on the amount of clay binder materials present in the spent foundry sand, the amount of agglomeration of the fines, and the coating on the individual particles. The greater amount of clay binder or agglomeration, or the thicker the coatings, the higher the soundness loss. Regardless, spent foundry sands generally exhibit favorable performance in soundness testing, with soundness losses less than 10 percent (indicative of durable aggregate).(13)

Deleterious Substances: Poorly managed spent foundry sand could contain objectionable materials such as wood, garbage, metal, carbon, and dust as well as large chunks of sand. For use in flowable fill, spent foundry sand must be managed to ensure that the sand is clean and processed to the proper sand size. Foundry sand is often contaminated with organic material and can have an organic content of up to 12 percent.(16,17)

Corrosivity: Depending on the binder and type of metal cast, the pH of spent foundry sand can vary from approximately 4 to 8.(18) It has been reported that some spent foundry sand can be corrosive to metals.(19) Others have indicated that flowable fill mixes containing spent foundry sand are noncorrosive in nature because of the absence of chlorides and high pH values obtained (11.4 to 12.3).(1)



Mix Design

Flowable fill mixes are usually designed on the basis of compressive strength, generally after 28 days of ambient temperature curing, but sometimes on the basis of longer term (90 days or more) strength. They are designed to have high fluidity during placement (typical slump of 150 mm to 200 mm (6 to 8 inches)) and to develop limited strength (typically between 340 kPa and 1400 kPa (50 and 200 lb/in2)), which is sufficient to support traffic without settling, yet can be readily excavated.(20)

Many jurisdictions specify the use of fine aggregates conforming to ASTM C33 in flowable fill, which generally precludes using spent foundry sand unless it is blended with natural sand or other suitable materials.

Structural Design

Structural design procedures for flowable fill materials are no different than geotechnical design procedures for conventional earth backfill materials. The procedures are based on using the unit weight and shear strength of the flowable fill to calculate the bearing capacity and lateral pressure of the material under given site conditions.



The same methods and equipment used to mix, transpor, and place flowable fill made with conventional aggregates may be used for flowable fill incorporating spent foundry sand.

Material Handling and Storage

The same general methods and equipment used to handle conventional aggregates are applicable for foundry sand. Special measures may be required to control the early contact water leachate (containing phenols) from spent foundry sand stockpiles. The construction of an impervious pad (to collect surface moisture or precipitation passing through the stockpile) and subsequent filtration (through an activated carbon filter) of the leachate has reportedly been effective in limiting the phenol concentration of the discharge.(19)

Mixing, Placing, and Compacting

Flowable fill can be produced at a central concrete mixing plant in accordance with ASTM C94(21) and delivered by concrete truck mixers or using a mobile, volumetric mixer for small jobs. It is important that high fluidity (slump greater than 150 mm (6 in)) be maintained to ensure that the flowable fill material entirely fills all voids beneath pavements and around structures and utilities.

Quality Control

Various standard field and laboratory tests for flowable fill mixes are given by AASHTO T27,(22) ASTM Provisional Standard 28 - Provisional Test Method for Flow Consistency of Controlled Low Strength Materials; and ASTM Provisional Standard 29 - Provisional Test Method for Unit Weight, Yield, and Air Content (Gravimetric) of Controlled Low Strength Material.



Most existing specifications require that the fine aggregate for flowable fill satisfy ASTM C33. Since foundry sand does not meet the gradation requirements of this standard, there is a need to review gradation requirements and investigate the impact of alternative gradations to permit wider use of spent foundry sand for this application. There also is a need to develop standardized mix design methods for assessing the suitability of foundry sand in flowable fill as well as a need to assess the environmental suitability of spent foundry sand for flowable fill from ferrous and particularly nonferrous foundries.



  1. Bhat, S. T., and C. W. Lovell. "Design of Flowable Fill: Waste Foundry Sand as a Fine Aggregate," Paper No. 961066, Transportation Research Board, 75th Annual Meeting, Washington, DC, 1996.

  2. Naik, T. R. Foundry Industry By-Products Utilization. Report No. CBU-1989-01, University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee, February, 1989.

  3. ACI Committee 229. "Controlled Low Strength Materials," Concrete International, Volume 16, No. 7, July, 1994, pp. 55-64.

  4. Adaska, W. S., and W. C. Krell. "Bibliography on Controlled Low-Strength Materials (CLSM)," Concrete International, Volume 14, No. 10, December, 1992, pp. 42-43.

  5. Naik, T. R., B. W. Ramme, and H. J. Kolbeck. "Filling Abandoned Underground Facilities with CLSM Fly Ash Slurry," Concrete International, Volume 12, No. 7, July, 1990, pp. 19-25.

  6. Larsen, R. L., "Sound Uses of CLSM in the Environment," Concrete International, Volume 12, No. 7, July, 1990, pp. 26-29.

  7. Ambroise, J. A. Amoura, and J. Péra. "Development of Flowable High Volume - Fly Ash Mortars," Proceedings of the 11th International Symposium on the Use and Management of Coal Combustion By-Products (CCBs), Volume 2. American Coal Ash Association, 1995.

  8. Newman, F. B., A. M. Di Gioia, and L. F. Rojas-Gonzalez. "CLSM Backfills for Bridge Abutments," Proceedings of the 11th International Symposium on the Use and Management of Coal Combustion By-Products (CCBs), Volume 2. American Coal Ash Association, 1995.

  9. American Society for Testing and Materials. Standard Specification C33, "Concrete Aggregate," Annual Book of ASTM Standards, Volume 04.02, ASTM, West Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, 1996.

  10. Pohlman, D. Pohlman Foundry Company, Buffalo, New York, Personal Communication, June, 1995.

  11. Collins, R. J. and S. K. Ciesielski. Recycling and Use of Waste Materials and By-Products in Highway Construction. National Cooperative Highway Research Program Synthesis of Highway Practice 199, Transportation Research Board, Washington, DC, 1994.

  12. Leidel, D. S., M. Novakowski, D. Pohlman, Z. D. MacRunnels, and M. H. MacKay. "External Beneficial Reuse of Spent Foundry Sand," AFS Transactions, Volume 102. American Foundrymen's Society, 1994.

  13. Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Energy. Spent Foundry Sand - Alternative Use Study. Report prepared by John Emery Geotechnical Engineering Limited for Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Energy and the Canadian Foundry Association, Queen’s Printer for Ontario, July, 1993.

  14. Larson, R. M. "Case Studies Demonstrating Applications of Controlled Low Strength Materials," Presented at the Spring Convention, American Concrete Institute, Washington, DC, March, 1992.

  15. CME. Compression Test Reports, CME Associates Inc., Buffalo, New York, 1993 (provided to JEGEL by Riefill Corp., Buffalo, New York, June, 1995).

  16. American Foundrymen’s Society. Alternative Utilization of Foundry Waste Sand. Final Report (Phase I) prepared by American Foundrymen’s Society Inc. for Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs, Des Plaines, Illinois, July, 1991.

  17. Javed, S. and C. W. Lovell. Use of Foundry Sand in Highway Construction. Joint Highway Research Project No. C-36-50N, Department of Civil Engineering, Purdue University, July, 1994.

  18. Johnson, C. K. "Phenols in Foundry Waste Sand." Modern Casting. January, 1981.

  19. Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. Mineral Aggregate Conservation - Reuse and Recycling. Report prepared by John Emery Geotechnical Engineering Limited for Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Queen’s Printer for Ontario, February, 1992.

  20. PCA. Cementitious Grouts and Grouting. Portland Cement Association, Skokie, Illinois, 1990.

  21. American Society for Testing and Materials. Standard Specification C94, "Ready-Mixed Concrete," Annual Book of ASTM Standards, Volume 04.02, ASTM, West Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, 1996.

  22. American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. Standard Method of Test, "Sieve Analysis of Fine and Coarse Aggregates," AASHTO Designation: T 27-84, Part II Tests, 14th Edition, 1986.


[ Material Description ] [ Asphalt Concrete ]

Previous | Table of Contents | Next

United States Department of Transportation - Federal Highway Administration