Silver lining for rubble fills Howard County: Construction dumps need liners to stop seepage into ground water.

November 07, 1995

THE STATE IS in a quandary over environmental protection measures for rubble fills, which take the concrete, wood and other debris from construction and demolition projects. The Maryland Department of the Environment wants to require an impermeable plastic liner for these buried cells to block seepage of pollutants into underground water supplies.

Yet the potential cost is so great -- from $100,000, $200,000 or more per acre -- that landfill operators and their customers are balking at MDE's proposed rules. These groups, which include counties that own and operate rubble fills, want the state to consider less costly options that might prove as effective.

These options may have merit: larger buffer zones, cutting the list of acceptable items, capping cells as they are filled, tougher inspections. But they are not as effective as the artificial liners required by Maryland for sanitary landfills, where we bury our trash and garbage.

Concerns about well and aquifer contamination continue to dog efforts to plan new facilities. Howard County is spending millions of dollars to pipe water to homes in the Marriottsville area after illegally dumped chemicals at a county landfill seeped pollution into underground water supplies.

Ground water can be filtered and decontaminated, but it is an expensive, elaborate process of uncertain result. The best method to protect underground water from rubble fill leachate is to require a containment liner, as half the states already do. Aside from scrupulous regulation of these dumps, liners are the most effective pollution prevention measure.

A citizen work group, formed at the legislature's request to advise MDE, was unable to agree on the proposed rubble fill liner rules before a legal deadline. The state agency hopes to draft new rules by the year's end.

Much of the debate is over the validity of experiences of older rubble fills. Their problems may not be repeated under today's tougher rules, some argue. But these problems take time to appear; today's unlined rubble fills may leak pollution into ground water in the future.

Despite increased recycling, rubble fills will still be needed as we build and rebuild. But protecting water supplies from polluted seepage is critical, and liners are the best solution.

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