Showtime at the landfill New cell replaces old leaking one

March 03, 1993|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff Writer

Howard County officials wearing tennis shoes and wing-tips slogged through the mud of the county's Alpha Ridge landfill yesterday to get a firsthand look at the new plastic-lined cell and the 13-year-old toxin-leaking cell it replaced on Saturday.

The tour was requested by County Council Chairwoman Shane Pendergrass, who will preside over the debate over whether to continue using the new cell as is, or find another place to put the county's trash.

The last stop of the tour was the "hot spot," where a monitoring well drilled into bedrock produced solvent-contaminated water samples in September. Shallow wells in the same northwest corner of the property have yielded contaminated water since 1990.

"There's a house that's right through the woods here," said landfill activist and Marriottsville resident L. Scott Muller, pointing though a young growth of trees next to a waist-high metal wellhead sticking out of the ground.

"What is it? About 500 feet?" he asked fellow activist Dr. Donald L. Gill, a University of Maryland Medical School biochemistry professor.

The two went with Ms. Pendergrass, D-1st; Public Works Director James M. Irvin; Environmental Services Bureau Chief John J. O'Hara; and Landfill Superintendent Scott Streib. County Councilman Charles C. Feaga, R-5th, whose western county district includes Marriottsville, was represented by his assistant, Peter Beck.

The officials first showed Ms. Pendergrass the new 36-acre cell, with its concrete sewer pipes that will recirculate leachate through the garbage. The process is believed to help decompose and stabilize the trash, but the theory has many detractors. Eventually, the liquid flows downhill to the center of the cell and into a pipe to a pumping station, which sends it into a 500,000-gallon leachate tank. It is stored there until it is trucked away for treatment.

As the small caravan of vehicles moved along the edge of the landfill property, past tall nets that catch airborne trash, there could be no doubt where the fresh garbage was.

Sea gulls swarmed above, in front and behind a red-orange compactor as it rolled back and forth on top of the trash dumped by a steady procession of trucks.

Ms. Pendergrass noted the amount of newspapers and other items that could have been recycled.

On Saturday, explained Landfill Superintendent Scott Streib, dumping ceased in the old clay-lined cell.

By then, the new sub-cell's lining was properly protected by a layer of softer residential trash. The soft waste, along with layers of gravel, sand and a cloth-like material, protects the double liner from being punctured by large objects in commercial trash.

Mr. O'Hara, chief of the Bureau of Environmental Services, noted that between the thicker main liner and the second liner below it is a separate leachate collection system. The system empties into a manhole that is checked periodically to make sure leachate is not penetrating the upper liner.

Dr. Gill said he did not believe the liner could withstand the pressure of thousands of tons of garbage

"This is state-of-the-art," he said, pointing to the new cell. Turning to the mountainous old cell, he continued, "but we were told this was 'state-of-the-art' when this was put here."

"It's all a compromise," responded Ms. Pendergrass. "They're all bad choices."

The old cell will be allowed to settle for about two years before it is given a cap of plastic and earth, which will keep rainwater from entering and percolating through to the ground below, Mr. Streib said. Were the cell capped earlier, the plastic could be damaged by shifting waste.

As Mr. Irvin drove Ms. Pendergrass out of the old cell, he pointed nTC to a man-made hillside. "There's a leachate seep right there," he said, as the chairwoman caught sight of thick, rust-colored liquid oozing out of the ground and discoloring the melting snow.

Mr. O'Hara explained that the leachate normally percolates downward, but sometimes travels horizontally if a layer of earth or trash obstructs its path. When that happens, county workers dig out the side of the landfill to remove the obstruction, he said.

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