Landfill draws local worries

Published 2:00 am Saturday, February 12, 2011

Developers interested in building a landfill on 5,000 acres in Conecuh County have assured officials through their application for the project that the landfill’s liner will meet or exceed state and federal environmental requirements.
For Ruth Harrell, chairwoman of the Coalition for a Healthier Escambia County, those assurances mean little. She and others opposed to the landfill have studied the effects of the Timberlands Landfill — a smaller facility located just south of where the Conecuh Woods landfill would be built.
“There is documented mercury in the groundwater next to Timberlands Landfill,” Harrell said. “I don’t care if the liner is steel or iron. There is the potential to seep into the groundwater.”
The proposed landfill would be located just off Alabama Highway 41, about seven miles north of the Interstate 65 intersection — about 24 miles north of Brewton.
That proximity should worry Escambia County residents, Harrell said.
“There are potential health effects for the whole region,” she said. “We’re downstream. We’ve already seen this with Timberlands.”
Harrell, who has spent 28 of her 51 years in nursing involved in public health issues, said she is also concerned about the methane gas buildup at the Conecuh Woods site.
“Methane is not destroyed by fire,” she said. “It settles on the ground and the foliage.”
While Conecuh Woods officials have said in their application that they will only accept household waste — that is, municipal solid waste — Harrell pointed out that there is still a possibility for toxic materials to get into household waste if residents don’t dispose of items properly.
“Municipal solid waste is plastic, leather, toxic metals,” she said.
Conecuh Woods officials have said in their application that the lining of the landfill will be a composite system, with 2 feet of natural clay liner topping the soil and a 60-millimeter high density polyethylene geomembrane liner on top of the clay liner.
Officials said a geonet — a triple-layer geosynthetic material — will lay directly over the primary liner, serving as an additional barrier to prent waste material from coming into contact with the primary lining.
The application states that the lining will meet or exceed Alabama Department of Environmental Management and Environmental Protection Agency requirements.
But Harrell said the ADEM data from Timberlands Landfill — which shows that the mercury level in the landfill’s groundwater test wells has exceeded the EPA’s safe drinking water limits — is grounds for worry with another facility that would be located so close.
And although any landfill in the state would have to meet ADEM and EPA rules, Harrell pointed out that “no landfill is a safe landfill.”
“Is the little bit of an economic benefit worth what people will have to pay in public health?” Harrell said. “This is a regional issue; this is a state issue.”