Protecting Communities & the Environment from Landfills, Transfer Stations, and Material Recovery (Recycling) Facilities
Among many other potential threats, CEDS helps people to stop bad waste projects to protect their home, community, and environment. We also help folks find ways of designing the harmful effects out of fundamentally sound waste projects. By waste projects we mean landfills, transfer station, composting, recycling-materials recovery (MRF), sludge disposal and related facilities. Whether you are faced with an existing or proposed facility, we can help you find the quickest, least expensive, yet highly-effective strategy to protect you, your community and the environment. Contact CEDS at 410-654-3021 or Help@ceds.org. Please don’t hesitate. Delay almost always decreases the likelihood of success in efforts to to stop bad waste projects.
LANDFILL AND TRANSFER STATION BASICS
By solid waste we mean the trash, garbage and the other discards we generate in our homes and places of work. Following is background on landfills and transfer stations.
What is a landfill?
Landfills, which used to be called dumps, are essentially pits or mountains filled with waste and covered with earth. Modern landfills are encased in impermeable liners and caps to reduce, but don’t eliminate, the amount of contaminated liquid seeping from the landfill. These modern landfill are surrounding by a network of wells from which water samples are drawn. The samples are analyzed to detect pollutants that escaped from the lined landfill. Once detected, measures would then be taken to repair leaks and clean-up any resulting contamination.
What is the impact of a landfill?
First of all, landfilling is a waste of a valuable resource that could create jobs and bolster a local economy. Landfills can also pose a severe threat to the health of area residents, lowers the value of nearby homes, pollute ground and surface waters, increase heavy truck traffic on local roads, and create a drain on tax-dollars to minimize landfill impacts forever. For further detail on specific impacts click each of the following:
How to prevent landfill impacts
The best way to stop bad waste projects is not to build them. A number of U.S. towns, cities, counties, and states have set the goal of eliminating the need for landfills (and incinerators) over the next decade or two. This goal is achieved through measures set forth in a Zero Waste plan. This document spells out the steps that reduce the need for landfills by increasing waste recycling, reuse, recovery, and reduction.
Unfortunately, Zero Waste cannot entirely eliminate the need for landfills. Some waste will always remain. To accommodate this need, new landfills should be guided to sites where impacts can be minimized. Click on the following text to learn more about assessing potential landfill sites and minimizing impacts.
What is a transfer station?
As the name implies, a transfer station is a location where waste is transferred from the trucks that collect it from homes or businesses to larger vehicles for delivery to a landfill, incinerator or other facility. Potential transfer station impacts include:
What is a Recycling or Material Recovery Facility (MRF)?
As the name implies, the portion of the waste stream which is recyclable is separated from that which would otherwise go to a landfill or incinerator. While recycling or MRFs provide many essential benefits, all processing should occur within a building with very good air quality control measure and they should not operate near homes.
CEDS research indicated that a minimum 600-foot separation is needed to protect homes from the noise, dust, odors and other harm that can result from recycling or MRFs. For further detail on how to assess safe setback distances in your area see the CEDS Initial Strategy Analysis Project Frank Construction & Demolition Materials Recovery Facility.
How to Stop Bad Waste Projects?
Most waste projects require the approval of either a local or state legislative body, such as a Town Council, Board of Supervisors, County Commissioners, Legislature, General Assembly, and/or a chief executive like a Mayor or County Executive. The approvals may entail inclusion in a solid waste plan along with building, grading, discharge or other environmental permits. Most efforts to stop bad waste projects succeed in a political arena, where citizens have the advantage. While the applicant usually has the advantage in the courts, litigation may be necessary to prevent permits from being granted before the political effort produces victory.
CEDS employees a unique approach known as Politically Oriented Advocacy to win in the political arena. The CEDS Smart Legal Strategies approach can even the odds a bit in courts where citizens tend to be at a disadvantage.
If you wish, CEDS can prepare a strategy analysis to confirm that a waste facility should be defeated and to set forth the steps most likely to stop bad waste projects. An example can be seen by clicking the following title: Brownville Rubble Landfill – Strategy Analysis Example. Chapters 35 to 42 in our free, 300-page book How To Win Land Development Issues provide more detailed advice.
So before you hire a lawyer or any other professionals, give CEDS call. We exist to assist folks who need more help then nonprofits can provide, but are not in a position to invest thousands of dollars in legal action. Our clients are presently winning 90% of their cases thanks to Politically Oriented Advocacy, an approach CEDS developed.
WASTE FACILITY IMPACT DETAILS
While landfills and transfer stations are essential and must exist somewhere, far too many unnecessarily impact neighborhoods and the environment. These impacts may extend several hundred feet to several miles. Following is a summary of the most common impacts prompting folks to seek to stop bad waste projects. Evaluating the potential impact of a proposed facility can be complex and frequently requires professional assistance. For further detail contact CEDS at 410-654-3021 or Help@ceds.org.
Health Impacts of Landfills, Transfer Stations, Etc.
A waste facility can threaten human health via releases or disease- or allergy-causing matter to the air, soil or water. The threat may take the form of disease-causing organisms, cancer-causing substances, dust or other respiratory irritants, the noise or odors addressed below, and a host of other undesirable scenarios. Health risks vary depending upon facility type, design and location. For example, a New York study determined that those living near a landfill were at greater risk when compared to transfer station or incinerator neighbors. Even seemingly benign facilities, like composting operations, can pose a significant threat as illustrated by a Cornell University report showing that the bacteria, fungi and other airborne pathogens released from yard waste facilities can affect the health of those living a third of a mile distant. This is but a small sampling of the extensive research regarding the health effects of waste facilities. Unfortunately, limited space prevents us from reviewing all the research here.
Noise Impacts of Landfills, Transfer Stations, Etc.
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 you 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.
You should insist on a detailed noise study to determine if sound levels will exceed those permitted in your state or locality. If a study is produced and you’d like a second opinion, then feel free to forward it to CEDS. But contact us first at 410-654-3021 or Help@ceds.org to let us know its coming. Following are a couple of steps for reducing the more common sources of landfill noise.
In a 2010 report, the National Academy of Engineering cited back-up beepers are 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;
- Use rubber gaskets;
- Decrease speed of closure; or
- Use bottom dump trucks.
Odor Impacts of Landfills, Transfer Stations, Etc.
Generally, odors from most municipal waste 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, 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 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. Odor Control Blankets made of high density polyethylene (HDPE) liner material are another option. The Blankets are combined with fans to blow odor neutralizing agents across the area. Odorous water is treated with carbon scrubbers.
Property Value Impacts of Landfills, Transfer Stations, Etc.
If landfills and transfer stations can be seen, heard or smelled from a home then it probably lowers property 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 the landfill pass by a home.
Most studies find that property value increases 5% for each additional mile separating a home from a landfill. 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 only lowered when more expensive homes are within a few blocks.
Truck Traffic Impacts of Landfills, Transfer Stations, Etc.
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. With regard to accidents, a fatality is twice as likely when a car is involved in a crash with a truck vs. another car.
Water Pollution Impacts of Landfills, Transfer Stations, Etc.
When rain or snowmelt enters a landfill and mixes with decomposing waste a highly-contaminated liquid known as leachate can form. Modern landfills benefit from a series of measures to minimize the release of leachate into underlying groundwater or nearby waterways. The measures include a liner beneath and around the sides of the buried waste. 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. Finally, the landfill is ringed with monitoring wells to detect significant increases in the release of leachate.
While all of these measures can reduce and delay leachate releases, they cannot prevent eventual water pollution. This is because water must be prevented from coming in contact with the buried waste for hundreds, even thousands 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. In the United States landfill owners are only required to monitor and maintain the landfill for 30 years. 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.
In the past, landfills designed solely for coal (fly) or other incineration ash were viewed as less of a water quality threat when compared to municipal waste landfills. However, a recent study by the Environmental Integrity Project noted groundwater contamination near 242 of the 265 U.S. coal-fired power plants. Most of the contamination came from coal-ash disposal ponds (92%) or landfills (76%).
GETTING THE BENEFITS OF LANDFILLS AND TRANSFER STATIONS WITH FEWER IMPACTS
In this section we’ll introduce options for minimizing impacts rather then just seeking to just stop bad waste projects. The key to minimizing impacts due to landfills and transfer stations is the minimize the amount and type of waste requiring transfer or disposal. According to EPA:
“In 2013, America recovered about 67 percent (5.7 million tons) of newspaper- mechanical paper and about 60 percent of yard trimmings.”
As of 2013, San Francisco diverted 80% of their waste from landfills while the national diversion rate was 35%. Advocating for aggressive waste reduction, reuse and recycling programs is the best way to minimize the size and number of transfer stations, landfills and waste processing facilities in your area.
In addition to waste minimization, the following measures will reduce waste facility impacts:
- Waste facilities should be located in industrial areas and away from homes;
- If a site is not available in an industrial area, then landfills, composting and related sites should be located at least 1500 feet from homes;
- Most waste facilities generate truck traffic so they should be located where direct access is available to a four-lane road or other major highways, never where trucks must travel residential streets;
- Waste processing and transfer should be done within a building fitted state-of-the-art equipment to control odors, dust, airborne pathogens and allergens;
- The building should have an impermeable floor to prevent groundwater contamination;
- Safety measures must be used that protect workers as well as area residents from excessive noise, such as white-noise backup alarms, rubber- gasketed or bottom-opening truck tailgates; and
- Waste facilities facilities posing a ground or surface water contamination potential should not be located in areas where drinking water would be threatened along with waters support uniquely sensitive aquatic communities.
ASSESSING POTENTIAL IMPACTS FROM LANDFILLS AND TRANSFER STATIONS
The first step is to assess the actual impact to determine if it’s necessary to stop bad waste projects. The process of assessing potential impacts from landfills and transfer stations is kind of the reverse of the criteria given above for Getting the Benefits With Fewer Impacts. Specifically, landfills and transfer stations should NOT be located:
In residential areas;
- Within 1500 feet if waste is handled, transferred, processed or landfilled in the open (not inside a building);
- Where truck traffic will travel residential streets or other roads where an increase in trucks may pose a threat to homes or other motorists;
- Where noise may exceed thresholds that harm quality of life for area residents;
- In areas with nearby wells or surface drinking water sources; or
- Where sensitive aquatic communities may be harmed.
In addition, if a waste facility has been proposed for a site within four miles of your community or in the watershed of a stream, lake, or other aquatic resource you value, then we urge you to aggressively pursue the following quality of life protection measures:
- Ensure that strategies for minimizing the need for another landfill (reduce, recycle, and reuse) being aggressively pursued;
- Assuming full use of waste reduction strategies, is another landfill truly needed;
- Make certain that all reasonable sites have been considered and that the proposed location truly is the best; and
- Carefully scrutinize the design, operation plan, and long term care to ensure that the landfill causes the least impact possible.
HOW TO PROTECT A COMMUNITY FROM EXPANSIONS OF LANDFILLS AND TRANSFER STATIONS
Once landfills and transfer stations are in place they have a tendency to grow. Landfill owners are particularly prone to seek horizontal or vertical expansions as a facility nears capacity. Promises are often made during the initial permitting that a facility will never expand. While these promises may be sincere, the elected officials who make them may no longer be in office as a facility nears capacity.
One way to protect area residents from a never ending waste facility is a side agreement. The agreement is between the facility owners and individual citizens or a citizens group. Following are some of the important MUSTS:
- It must have enforcement mechanisms which do not drain you of funds, time or other resources;
- The attorneys for the waste facility owner should prepare the first draft of the agreement;
- The agreement must be reviewed by an attorney of your choosing, who is paid by you and who has extensive experience with this area of the law;
- The agreement must be notarized and recorded in the land records so it runs with the deed and binds on current as well as future owners of the facility site; and
- The waste facility owner must reimburse you for all expenses.
HOW CEDS CAN HELP
Following are the many ways in which CEDS can greatly increase the odds of winning a campaign to stop bad waste projects and protect you, your family and neighbors from the impact of landfills and transfer stations.
Free Advice By Phone
We’d be delighted to answer any specific questions you have regarding a waste facility. Just give us a call at 410-654-3021. Advice by phone is always available free of charge to those seeking to preserve their home and neighborhood from harm.
Free Plans Review
We can conduct an initial review of facility plans for obvious, potential impacts. We can then suggest possible technical solutions for each impact and suggest strategies for ensuring that the project is not approved until each solution is fully adopted. For those facilities where impacts cannot be resolved, we can suggest how you can research possible strategy options for preventing the facility from opening.
Detailed Analysis of Strategy Options
If you find you lack the time to research strategy options on your own, then we can carry out an Initial Strategy Analysis (ISA). Of course the purpose of the ISA is to determine the quickest, least expensive strategy for resolving your concerns. Generally, the ISA costs $750 to $1,500 and can be completed in two weeks. An example of an ISA can be viewed by clicking the following link: Brownville Rubble Landfill – Strategy Analysis Example.
Following is a bit more background on the CEDS philosophy and approach regarding waste facilities.
While we need a place to put materials which cannot be recycled or reused, the benefits of waste facilities can come at a tremendous cost to nearby residents and the environment. Though technological advances make the landfill of today safer than those of the past, the added safeguards are by no means foolproof much less universally applied.
The following two publications illustrate the approach advocated by CEDS to ensure that the preceding measures are achieved.
- Brownville Rubble Landfill – Strategy Analysis Example
- Citizen Perspectives on Siting Solid Waste Facilities
Additionally, the CEDS Project Evaluation Checklist allows you to assess the quality of life effects of many types of proposed development activities. A number of the impacts listed in the checklist are applicable to landfills, such as air quality, environmental justice, fire, groundwater degradation, historic places, light trespass, noise, odors, property value, traffic, and water pollution. Detail on how to review a project for these potential impacts can be found in our free 300-page book How To Win Land Development Issues. Strategies for defeating a poorly conceived landfill project can be found in Chapters 35 to 42.
CEDS is a nationwide network of attorneys, planners, environmental scientists, traffic engineers, political strategists, fundraisers, and other professionals. We help people with concerns about all types of landfills (municipal, construction-demolition debris, land clearing debris, stump dumps, rubble, etc). We also help those living near existing and closed landfills to reduce facility impacts.
To learn how we can help with the landfill of concern to you, just give us a call at 410-654-3021. Advice by phone is always available free of charge to those seeking to preserve their home and neighborhood from harm. You can also email us at Help@ceds.org.