Landfill may close early Trash shipping, incineration, weighed as options

February 07, 1993|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff Writer

The Alpha Ridge landfill may need to close sooner than expected and the county's trash shipped elsewhere, according to members of the Howard County Council.

The recent discovery that toxins have seeped from the county landfill in Marriottsville into bedrock -- believed to be a barrier to landfill runoff -- has focused attention on the idea that the landfill could be closed long before it is expected to fill up in 2008.

"If there is a threat to the health of the citizens of our county and we are responsible, then we need to solve the problem," said Council Chairwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st.

Chemicals used for grease-cutting, dry cleaning or paint removal -- some suspected of causing cancer -- were found in bedrock at levels many times higher than federal drinking water standards. Tests done on selected local residential wells showed no contamination, however.

Although test results came back in September and November, the county's elected officials, including County Executive Charles I. Ecker, were not informed of the results until late last month by Donald L. Gill, a biochemist who lives in Marriottsville and opposes further landfilling.

Ms. Pendergrass and three of the four other council members said they might support sending trash that is not recycled or composted out of the county, at least until a long-term solid waste plan is adopted and implemented.

County Councilman Paul Farragut was out of town last week and could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Ecker has said repeatedly that he believes the county should "take care of its own" when it comes to dealing with trash.

He reiterated that view Friday, but conceded that shipping trash was a short-term possibility.

"We may have to ship it out for a short period of time. I don't know. I think it relieves us from our responsibility and obligation," Mr. Ecker said.

Although she wanted to hear from the Solid Waste Advisory Committee before making any decisions, Ms. Pendergrass spoke favorably of shipping trash.

"I certainly don't oppose it. It sounds like it's probably a very reasonable solution," she said.

The chairwoman said she is uncomfortable with trash incinerators and understands that landfills in other states can bring jobs and much-needed revenues to less populous areas.

"I don't have this feeling that we've gotta do it here. I do have a feeling that we've got to do it safely," Ms. Pendergrass said.

Councilman Charles C. Feaga, R-5th, urged the county executive to reconsider his position on shipping trash in a letter dated Jan. 29.

The letter asks Mr. Ecker to consider:

* Closing the landfill as soon as possible and shipping nonrecyclable and noncompostable materials out of the county temporarily, perhaps five years.

* Selecting another way of dealing with solid waste and begin using it.

* Until another plan is formulated, keeping the two-week-old plastic-lined cell in Marriottsville as "an emergency backup."

Councilman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, also suggested that the county should consider closing the landfill in the next several years.

"It really points up the fact that we really need to do everything possible to accelerate our recycling and . . . close the landfill," he said.

"When the landfill opened, there was an agreement that it would be closed by the year 2000, and I think that's what we have to deal with," Mr. Gray said. "If there's a continuing contamination problem, I think we might have to look at closing it sooner," he said.

Members of the county Solid Waste Advisory Committee could not agree on sending waste out of the county, said committee Chairwoman Miriam Mahowald.

But in a report given to the executive last Monday with recommendations for a 10-year solid waste plan, the committee urged that the county recycle and reduce waste as much as possible and then compost and incinerate trash rather than landfill.

County Councilman Darrel Drown, R-2nd, said the results proved that "we shouldn't be burying too much of our trash." He praised the recommendation last week of the county's Solid Waste Advisory Committee to use incineration instead of more landfilling after other methods are exhausted.

County Public Works Director James Irvin said recently that the test results could alter county officials' belief that bedrock under the landfill could protect local residents' water from contamination.

It is common for contaminated water to seep into bedrock, said Edward Bouwer, professor of environmental engineering at Johns Hopkins University. He does research on the breakdown of solvents and teaches students how chemicals move through soil, water and air.

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