Greater Whitewater Alliance

Please sign our petition and answer a few survey questions.

Ensuring A Massive Proposed Landfill Does Not Harm Greater Whitewater Quality of Life

A massive expansion of the Bond Road landfill has been proposed for the area outlined with red below. While unlikely, the following landfill adverse effects could extend as far as the yellow, five-mile impact zone line shown below: noxious odors, loss of property value, adverse health effects, pollution of ground and surface waters, and others.

The Greater Whitewater Alliance consists of residents of Whitewater Township, Harrison and other Hamilton-Dearborn County communities concerned about the landfill.  Unfortunately, both Whitewater Township and Hamilton County have almost no say in whether the massive landfill is allowed to proceed.  This is because Whitewater Township lacks zoning and other land use controls.  Though Hamilton County has both, County zoning-land use regulations do not apply to lands within the Township.

We believe the Whitewater Trustees would like to have control over the landfill and other land use changes that could affect the quality of life of Whitewater’s 5500 residents.  In the past, Whitewater Township has considered the adoption of zoning/land use controls. However, concerns about the modest added cost to Whitewater tax-payers was a primary reason why the controls were not enacted.

Consider though that some studies show that homes near a landfill sell for 13% less and property value increase by 5% for each additional mile of distance from a landfill.  Given this, the cost of adopting zoning may be a bargain when compared to the loss of property value along with other adverse effects described below. It is for these reasons that we hope you will join with our many neighbors who have signed the Greater Whitewater Alliance petition at:

Potential Landfill Impacts

Following is a summary of the possible adverse effects associated with landfills. 

Landfill Air Pollution & Public Health

Most of the solid waste from our homes, businesses, schools, etc. goes to a municipal landfill.  Highly toxic waste can go to a hazardous waste landfill.  Debris from building projects and raising existing structures may go to a construction and demolition debris landfill.  And incinerator or power plant residue will likely end up in fly ash landfill.

The potential public health effects of these and other landfill types differs.  The focus of this webpage is the first category – the municipal landfill.  Most of the adverse health effects are attributable to pollutants released to the air.

Many experts believe that 80% or more of wastes traditionally buried in a municipal landfill could be turned into marketable products via recycling, composting and other processes.  In fact, a number of counties and cities have adopted Zero Waste plans for ending the need to bury or burn municipal waste over a decade or so.  Ironically, one of the factors holding back efforts to end the need for landfills are landfills themselves.

In a number of cases it’s cheaper to bury waste then to set up the collection and processing facilities required to recycle and compost waste then deliver it to locations where these materials can be put to constructive use.  A missing factor from waste management decision-making is the public health costs of landfills.  In this webpage section we provide facts that those concerned about landfills impacts can use to demand factoring in this cost.

In the interest of full disclosure, the author of this webpage – CEDS president Richard Klein – is not an expert on landfills or public health.  And some might say that I make money by helping those concerned about landfills.

Below is the title of 14 scientific papers regarding the health effects of compounds released from landfills to the atmosphere.  Clicking on the blue title will take you to the actual study.  Following the title is my take on the key findings from each paper that are relevant to the public health effects of landfill emissions. A more detailed document posted at the following link contains the abstract from each paper so the reader can further judge the accuracy of my interpretation of the key relevant findings:

Most papers include contact information for the researchers.  You should feel free to contact the researchers about the relevancy of their findings to your situation.

A portion of the research addressed in the 14 papers was conducted at landfills that do not benefit from current protection measures like impermeable liners and caps, gas collection and treatment systems, and exclusion of toxic-hazardous waste.  On the other hand, as liners and caps fail and collection-treatment system age, the impact of a modern landfill could come to resemble, over time, that of an older facility.

A 2003 paper noted the need to determine if, in fact, new control measures did resolve health impact concerns.  It appears that the studies needed to make this determination have not been published.  In a 2009 paper it was reported that odorous compounds concentrations emitted from facilities in France and Poland were affected by “failures of the landfill gas collection system, heavy truck traffic, machinery operations and compacting fresh waste.”  Detection of odors has been linked to adverse health effects among those living near landfills.

Another issue possibly affecting the applicability of these papers to conditions in the U.S. is that a number of the landfills were carried out in other countries.  Waste composition and control measures may differ in other countries.  Frankly, it is somewhat disconcerting that relatively few studies have been done in the U.S.  Lastly, many of the researchers who noted adverse effects called for more thorough investigations to verify their findings.  Unfortunately, it appears these more rigorous studies seldom occur.

Now that all the qualifications are covered, you’ll find that many of these papers noted a small but statistically significant increased risk of adverse health effects among those living up to two-miles from municipal landfills.  Adverse health effects may also be experienced by those living along the route travelled by trucks hauling waste to regional landfills.

Adverse effects range from nausea to low-birth weight to cancer.

The bottom line is that while we’ll need landfills for the next decade or two, it is imperative that we rapidly expand recycling, composting and other approaches that reduce the need to bury 80% or more of the waste we currently landfill.  Otherwise we’ll simply be exposing more of our neighbors – who are likely to live in minority or low-income areas – to adverse health effects and a poorer quality of life.

Lastly, I have a favor to ask of you.  Please forward any other research studies which should be included I this document.

Relation between malodor, ambient hydrogen sulfide, and health in a community bordering a landfill: In this 2011 paper, researchers reported that odors from a North Carolina municipal landfill were strongly associated with alteration of daily activities like going outside, negative mood states, mucosal irritation, and upper respiratory symptoms.  These adverse effects were experienced by those living at least 0.75 miles from the landfill.  The researchers provided the following:

“Although newer landfills may be better designed and operated than older facilities, communities near some Subtitle D landfills continue to report problems with noise, malodor, and animal pests. In the USA (Martuzzi et al., 2010) and North Carolina (Norton et al., 2007), landfills tend to be disproportionately located in areas with lower housing value and larger concentrations of people of color. Poorer housing, lack of air conditioning and clothes driers, and dependence on the local neighborhood for recreation, make low income communities more vulnerable to impacts of pollutants than communities with well-insulated homes where residents have the means to travel to other locations for exercise and entertainment at times when their homes and neighborhoods are affected by malodor.”

Options for management of municipal solid waste in New York City: a preliminary comparison of health risks and policy implicationsIn this 2008 paper the researchers compared health risks of New York City Waste-To-Energy (WTE) incinerators to a regional, municipal landfill in Pennsylvania.  The researchers also examined health risks among the population exposed to waste as it was transported to a regional landfill.  They concluded: “The overall results indicate that the individual cancer risks for both options would be considered generally acceptable, although the risk from landfilling is approximately 5 times greater than from WTE treatment; the individual non-cancer health risks for both options would be considered generally unacceptable, although once again the risk from landfilling is approximately 5 times greater than from WTE treatment.”

Systematic review of epidemiological studies on health effects associated with management of solid waste:  In this 2009 paper, British and Italian researchers concluded that there was limited evidence that those living within two kilometers (1.2 miles) of old landfills were at higher risk for congenital anomalies and low birth weight based on peer-reviewed literature published between 1983 and 2008.

Health hazards and waste management:  In this 2003 literature review of 48 studies, a British researcher found there was insufficient information to assess the effect of new waste disposal technologies on mitigating health impacts.

Analysis of odorous compounds at municipal landfill sites:  In this 2009 paper, researchers reported that odorous compound concentrations from facilities in France and Poland were affected by “failures of the landfill gas collection system, heavy truck traffic, machinery operations and compacting fresh waste.”

Health Effects of Residence Near Hazardous Waste Landfill Sites: A Review of Epidemiologic Literature: In this 2000 paper, a British researcher reviewed 76 epidemiologic studies and noted that a hazardous waste landfill can pose a greater threat to public health than one accepting only municipal waste.  However, it is unclear whether the studies included in this literature review were focused on landfills in general or just those restricted to hazardous waste.  While increased symptoms of adverse health effects – fatigue, sleepiness, headaches – were reported by those living near landfills, the researcher noted the need for more rigorous study.

Influence of a municipal solid waste landfill in the surrounding environment: Toxicological risk and odor nuisance effects: In this 2014 paper, Italian researchers reviewed the findings from 61 other studies and noted the possibility that area residents would be exposed to potentially toxic compounds and nuisances such as odors.  The researchers studied emissions from a landfill located in Italy.  They found that risks for cancer and non-cancer were orders of magnitude below Word Health Organization acceptable levels.

Environmental Stressors: The Mental Health Impacts of Living Near Industrial Activity: In this 2005 paper, researchers used U.S. Census and Toxic Release Inventory data to assess the mental health effects of living near a number of “industrial activities” including landfills.  The researchers found that living close to industrial activities has a negative impact on mental health.  They also found the impact is greater for minorities and the poor.

Public perception of odour and environmental pollution attributed to MSW treatment and disposal facilities: A case study:  In this 2013 paper, researchers reported that once an Italian landfill closed area residents reported fewer odors.

Residential Proximity to Environmental Hazards and Adverse Health Outcomes:  This 2011 paper, presented a review of the numerous environmental hazards – including landfills – that may adversely affect public health.  The authors concluded: “Government agencies should consider these findings in establishing rules and permitting and enforcement procedures to reduce pollution from environmentally burdensome facilities and land uses.”

Risk of adverse birth outcomes in populations living near landfill sites:  In this 2001 paper, British researchers reported a small excess risk of congenital anomalies and low and very low birth weight in populations living with 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) of municipal landfills.

Risk of congenital anomalies after the opening of landfill sites:  In this 2005 paper, British researchers reported an increased risk of births with congenital malformations among those living within 4 kilometers (2.4 miles) of landfills.  The researchers cautioned though: “Causal inferences are difficult because of possible biases from incomplete case ascertainment, lack of data on individual-level exposures, and other socioeconomic and lifestyle factors that may confound a relationship with area of residence.”

Adverse pregnancy outcomes near landfill sites in Cumbria, northwest England, 1950-1993: In this 2003 paper, British researchers reported an increased risk of death from “other congenital anomalies of nervous system” for those living near a landfill.

Incidence of cancer among persons living near a municipal solid waste landfill site in Montreal, Québec:  In this 1995 paper, Canadian researchers reported an elevated risk of cancer among those living in the landfill vicinity.

Noise Impacts of Landfills

Sound that disturbs the peacefulness of your home is an apt description of noise. Excessive noise from both landfills and transfer stations can make it difficult to relax, concentrate or share a conversation with others. Early morning or late-night noise can disrupt sleep. With regard to landfills and transfer stations, the most common noises are from back-up beepers and the clang of tail gates slamming against heavy truck bodies. Public address systems are occasionally another source of noise.  Noise from trucks traveling to and from waste facilities can affect many more area residents.

In a 2010 report, the National Academy of Engineering cited back-up beepers as one of the top six noise sources associated with behavioral and emotional consequences. Backup beepers and slamming tailgates top the federal Department of Transportation’s list of nighttime construction noise sources.

Alternatives are available to traditional back-up beepers, such as white-noise devices which may be even more effective but cause less disturbance to area residents. The Federal Highway Administration recommended four actions to reduce noise from slamming tailgates:

  • Establish truck clean out staging areas far from homes,
  • Use rubber gaskets,
  • Decrease speed of closure, or
  • Use bottom dump trucks.

Odor Impacts of Landfills

Generally, municipal waste odors are not too bad. But when the odors are bad they can be offensive at a distance of up to four or five miles. Gypsum wallboard in construction and demolition can release hydrogen-sulfide which has an odor of rotten eggs if it becomes wet in a low-oxygen environment. This sulfurous odor has been smelled up to three miles away. Some industrial or other “putresible” wastes can be pretty horrendous, like those from food processing or sewage treatment plants.

Landfill operators are required to cover wastes with a layer of earth at the end of each day.  This daily cover usually keeps odors down. Some of the worst odors occur when its necessary to dig into a landfill to repair liner leaks or broken gas collection piping.

Deodorants and odor neutralizers are used to reduce nauseating smells. But an active gas extraction system is the most reliable means of controlling landfill odors.  However, the system is only effective if well maintained over decades. 

Property Value Impacts of Landfills

If a landfill or transfer station can be seen, heard or smelled from a home then it probably lowers resale value. Property value can also be depressed if landfills and transfer stations cannot be seen, heard or smelled but a large number of trucks travelling to or from the facility pass by a home.

Most studies find that property value increases 5% for each additional mile separating a home from a landfill.  For example, a study of three Pennsylvania landfills found that adjacent homes sold for 13% less than comparable houses not located near a landfill. A study of five Ohio landfills concluded that property value is lowered by 3% to 7% in the vicinity of a landfill.

Truck Traffic Impacts of Landfills

Landfills and transfer stations generate a tremendous amount of truck traffic. An increase in heavy truck traffic can lower property value and increase accidents as well as noise. The noise alone can substantially lower property value when truck traffic increases. The noise from heavy truck traffic lowers property value at a rate 30 to 50 times greater than cars. This is because at 50 feet heavy trucks emit noise 16 times louder than car traffic. While large trucks account for just 4% of registered vehicles they were involved in 9% of fatal crashes.

In a 2008 study, researchers noted an increased cancer risk among those along the routes traveled by trucks hauling waste to a regional municipal landfill.  However, the increase was one additional cancer case per 39 million people.

Water Pollution Impacts of Landfills

When rain or snowmelt enters a landfill and mixes with decomposing waste a highly-contaminated liquid known as leachate can form.  This 2002 review of 128 papers listed 133 chemicals detected in the liquid (leachate) formed when water passes through the waste contained in a municipal solid waste (MSW) landfill.  These chemicals can be toxic to aquatic life and may pose a threat to human health including cancer.  This literature review noted that the chemical composition of leachate changes over time.  However, leachate may remain harmful indefinitely.

As illustrated below, modern landfills benefit from a series of measures to minimize the release of leachate into underlying groundwater or nearby streams. The measures include a liner beneath and around the sides of the buried waste along with a system of pipes at the bottom of the landfill to collect leachate for treatment. When a landfill cell is closed it is covered with an impermeable cap. Landfills are also ringed with monitoring wells to detect significant increases in the release of leachate.

While all of these measures can reduce and delay leachate releases, eventual water pollution cannot be prevented. This is because water must not come in contact with the buried waste for hundreds of years. Liners have been in use for about 30 years, which is about the same duration as the warranty offered by most liner manufacturers. One study indicated that liner half-life is about 36 years. As holes develop in liners they can be repaired, but this requires excavating buried waste which can lead to severe odor problems. And eventual, catastrophic liner failure may be inevitable.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) requires owners to monitor and maintain landfills for 30 years after closure.  Some states, like California, now require those who profit from landfills to continue monitoring and maintance long beyond the minimum 30-year post-closure period required by USEPA.