Tuscaloosa, Alabama was covered in thick, black inky smoke from Waste Management's (WM) Cypress Creek Landfill September 19, 2010 from a "yet to be determined" fire at the facility. Cypress Creek's spokesman is citing problems with scavengers looking for metal as a potential fire hazard at the landfill, but would not confirm that was the cause of Sunday's fire which is "under investigation."
We suggest, based on a report from the Journal of Environmental Health that there may be another reason for fires at the landfill which state environmental officials and WM won't be quick to admit.
The black smoke bellowing out of this landfill is full of chemicals and toxins. Have any public notices been issued by the landfill or ADEM? Our sources cannot confirm any. At least two companies we find on a quick search are sending their wastes there both of them manufacture roofing materials that contain Benzo(ghi)perylene among others:
(Source: US EPA)
Effluent Limitation Guidelines
The local water treatment plant sends its solids there.
The landfill spokesman says that "the scavenging going on searching for metal creates a fire hazard" in the accompanying WVUA news video. An interesting preliminary, perhaps even contrived blame game angle and probably not the truth.
Money Pits--Big Risks Lurk in Municipal Landfills
September 2010 Waste Age
By Barbara Deas
In an average year, more than 8,300 fires break out in U.S. landfills – many of them burning out of control underground – often releasing toxic gases into the atmosphere.
The 6,000 U.S. landfills produce 450 billion to 650 billion cubic feet of methane per year, creating odors, health threats and explosion risks – and attracting the attention of environmental organizations nationwide.
Oops. Seems like the Tuscaloosa group didn't get the memo about careful what you say when it can be fact-checked.
The following is from the Journal of Environmental Health report which explains there may be other reasons for surface/subsurface fires igniting at these Construction & Demolition (C/D) landfills which is based in science, not conjecture and oddly enough they don't mention "scavengers" once in their 2008 report:
Journal of Environmental Health
by Michelle Colledge, Lynn Wilder
Historically, construction and demolition (C&D) debris landfills have been considered nonhazardous operations, containing relatively inert wastes such as concrete, asphalt, wood, metals, gypsum drywall, and roofing materials.
In recent years, however, it has become increasingly clear that emissions resulting from the decomposition of gypsum drywall and organic debris are a public health issue. Drywall, comprised of gypsum (CaSO[sub 4] • 2H[sub 2]O), breaks down into hydrogen sulfide and other sulfur compounds under anaerobic conditions and in the presence of water.
When exposed to water, the sulfate in the gypsum is dissolved in landfill leachate (Townsend, 1998). Under the same environmental conditions, organic debris degradation produces other flammable gases such as methane. As a result, surface and subsurface fires may occur at C&D landfills (Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA], 2002).
Drywall can be a significant constituent of C&D wastes.
Depending on the type of construction, it comprises between 5% and 25% of total C&D volume generated (Townsend et al., 2000; United States Environmental Protection Agency [U.S. EPA], 1998). In the United States, C&D waste comprises a considerable portion of the overall solid waste stream.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) estimated that over 136 million metric tons of building-related wastes were generated in 1996 (U.S. EPA, 1998). Approximately 35%-40% of these wastes were landfilled in C&D facilities.
As a comparison, this amount of C&D waste was only slightly less than the 190 million metric tons of total municipal solid waste (MSW) generated that same year (Clark, Jambeck, & Townsend, 2006).
In 1996, approximately 1,900 C&D landfills were operating in the United States (U.S. EPA, 1998). At these sites, gas emissions to ambient air are influenced by a number of factors, including, but not limited to, the volume and composition of the waste (particularly gypsum drywall content); engineering design and controls; the condition, composition, and thickness of the landfill cap; and leachate collection, removal, and handling practices.
Because U.S. EPA does not specifically regulate the operations of C&D landfills, C&D regulation is the responsibility of individual states. Clark and co-authors (2006) recently reviewed and summarized state C&D landfill regulations across the country.
The authors found little consistency from state to state in the siting and engineering design requirements of these facilities, in regulatory oversight and rules, or even in a state's definition" of what constitutes C&D waste. The authors did find, however, that state standards are generally far less stringent for C&D facilities than for MSW facilities (Clark, Jambeck, & Townsend, 2006).
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and its federal, state, and local health and environmental agency partners have recently investigated a number of C&D landfills with gas emissions that caused significant community health concerns.
Community exposures vary, but are generally greatest during stable meteorological conditions and are generally diurnal with the highest concentrations in ambient air in late evening and early morning hours. At some of these sites, concentrations of hydrogen sulfide gas in residential ambient air were at or above levels known to cause adverse human health effects.
At an Ohio C&D landfill, hydrogen sulfide concentrations in residential ambient air approached the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommended exposure limit (REL) for the occupational ceiling value of 10 parts per million (ppm) (ATSDR, 2003).
Improper leachate management at the same site also resulted in community hydrogen sulfide concentrations of up to 95 ppm on at least one occasion (ATSDR, 2006). This concentration is just below the NIOSH immediately dangerous to life and health (IDLH) level of 100 ppm over 15 minutes.
Under normal conditions, hydrogen sulfide is a colorless, flammable gas. It has an odor threshold as low as 0.5 parts per billion (ppb) (ATSDR, 2006), and is typically characterized as smelling like rotten eggs or sewage. When inhaled, hydrogen sulfide readily enters the blood stream via diffusion through pulmonary alveoli. The majority of hydrogen sulfide is metabolized through oxidation into thiosulfate, then further oxidized to sulfate, which is rapidly excreted in the urine.
People with preexisting respiratory conditions or immature respiratory systems are more likely to experience adverse health effects from hydrogen sulfide exposure. Those with cardiac or nervous system disorders may also be more likely to experience adverse outcomes from hydrogen sulfide exposure. Although the exacerbation of preexisting respiratory conditions (e.g., asthma) and neurological effects (e.g., headache, nausea, and fatigue) have been noted at low levels (between 10 and 100 ppb), to date, quantifiable irritant effects levels have only been reported with exposures in the low ppm range
Although ATSDR is not an occupational health agency, staff members have noted worker health and safety issues at numerous C&D landfills. Generally, these facilities have no employee training programs on the use of personal protective equipment and no on-site monitoring programs for common C&D gases.
In one case, several employees either lost consciousness or became nauseated and evacuated the work area (Florida Department of Health [FDOH], 2007). In November 2007, four employees died as a result of exposure to high concentrations of hydrogen sulfide while attempting to repair a leachate pump at a C&D landfill in Superior, Wisconsin (Einhorn, 2007). Surface and subsurface fires at C&D landfills also pose a physical hazard to site employees.
Updates as we find them.
**Update September 20. 2010 7:03 pm
We're not at all surprised to see follow ups on this story explaining away the assumed cause of the fire on the prolonged dry weather conditions. That makes for a nice and tidy general explanation without ruffling any feathers. If dry weather is the cause then why aren't landfills all over the state catching fire because of the same conditions? True to form once again Alabama's MSM follows the path of least resistance and questions.