By Jim Beller
Staff writer | (firstname.lastname@example.org
KINGSPORT - Just when you thought Hawkins County was a safe place to raise a family, think again. Clean water watchdogs announced Thursday that Carter Valley Landfill is leaking into the groundwater and has been accepting nuclear waste.
Officials from The Tennessee Clean Water Network (TCWN) and Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) addressed the media Thursday at Mead Auditorium in the Kingsport Public Library.
"People around regular trash landfills will be shocked to learn that radioactive contamination from nuclear weapons production is ending up there, either directly released by the Department Of Energy or via brokers and processors," stated Diane D'Arrigo, NIRS.
TCWN Director of Community Organizing, Rachael Bliss, cited the Hawkins County landfill as a prime example of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conversation's (TDEC) failure to control leaking landfills contaminating ground and surface water.
"Thirty-one percent of our landfills are leaking," said Bliss. "Add to this, the Nuclear Information and Resource Service recent report showing that the state of Tennessee is a leader in licensing processors that can release radioactive materials to a municipal landfill.
"There are nine landfills in Northeast Tennessee that are leaking and one is accepting special radioactive waste, Carter Valley Landfill in Hawkins County," she said. "Radioactive waste should not be accepted in our municipal dumps since TDEC has already demonstrated an inability to properly protect our water and communities from toxic landfill leachate.
"Last year, statistics from TDEC showed of the 225 permitted landfills across the state, 69 or 31% were leaking," Bliss said. "Landfill leachate, contaminates drinking water sources like groundwater and surface water with toxic pollutants that are known to cause birth defects, cancer, learning disabilities and other health problems.
"As recent as May of 2006, the Hawkins County landfill was assessed more than $70,000 in damages and penalties by TDEC for groundwater contamination," Bliss said, adding that "this is after two and a half years of warnings and violations notices that failed to resolve the leak problem.
"TDEC claimed that communities surrounding the landfill were in no danger from the leak. Violations range from lack of litter control to leachate leaks in groundwater, leaks migrating into storm water control structure, problems with collection, inadequate erosion control and leaking pipes.
"According to the Johnson City TDEC field office there was no deadline set for BFI, who manages the landfill, to complete its repair of the Carter Valley Landfill leaks in exchange for a negotiated settlement with the Solid Waste Disposal Control Board for its violations."
Bliss continued: "As of two days ago, the work was still ongoing. In the absence of a remedy to stop the leaks, Carter Valley Landfill is hauling its leachate by trucks to the Eastman Wastewater Treatment Facility.
"According to TDEC records, the landfill is still on a monitoring basis of two times a year," Bliss said. "Evidently, TDEC doesn't think this is serious enough to require quarterly monitoring."
Bliss said fewer than five of Tennessee's leaking landfills have "any corrective action being taken to stop the toxic landfill leachate."
"TDEC's data from 2006 shows 44% of Class I landfills are leaking," she said. "Class I landfills are sanitary municipal landfills, like Carter's Valley. This means approximately 40 percent of Tennessee's landfills that are held the highest existing design standards that are actively accepting waste are leaking."
Bliss said action needed by the Department to control Tennessee's leaking landfills include the regulation of landfills according to TDEC's Division of Solid Waste Management. Among these regulations are remediation of groundwater contamination, monitoring groundwater and methane gas. Another step in this process is requiring the 69 leaking landfills to come into compliance with TDEC's regulations.
"TDEC's consistent and efficient enforcement of landfill regulations can prevent an entire community's exposure to toxic leaks from landfills and this can improve our ground and surface water and our right to clean water."
D'Arrigo is one author of the recently released report, "Out of Control - On Purpose: DOE's Dispersal of Radioactive Waste into Landfills and Consumer Products." The report was commissioned to track if and how the Department of Energy (DOE) releases some of the low radioactive wastes from nuclear bomb production. The report said Tennessee is a leader in licensing processors that can release radioactive materials into our municipal landfills.
"The DOE has on its own, actually in contradiction to the federal and Congressional revocation of these kinds of policies in the early '90s, determined its own levels it decided are acceptable for radiation exposure above the normal background. Several systems within the Department Of Energy allow that radioactive waste to go out to regular garbage or to be recycled into the marketplace or re-used. Equipment can be re-used or concrete and asphalt used again."
There are four Class I landfills authorized to receive such wastes: Chestnut Ridge in Anderson County, North Shelby County, Middle Point in Rutherford County, and Carter Valley in Hawkins County.
Bliss said local residents who prided themselves on the clean water from private wells before the Carter Valley Landfill began operations, finally took up a petition to receive utility district water when people downstream from the landfill discovered their wells were contaminated.
TDEC issued civil fines and penalties at Carter Valley Landfill in October 2006 after 2005 groundwater monitoring found contamination in the groundwater.
Additionally, TCWN found that of the 69 landfills across the state known to be leaking, TDEC required corrective action for groundwater contamination at less than 5 of those landfills, including Dickson County, Sevier County, City of McKenzie, and Smelter Services Class 2 landfill in Mt. Pleasant.
Dickson County's landfill received national attention for what is believed to be the community's exposure to trichloroethene from leachate in drinking water supplies causing birth defects. The contamination occurred despite the landfill being built under stringent EPA guidelines and the old landfill's closure in 2003.
Bliss said Hawkins County has the second highest incidence of birth defects in the state. "We should have a concern about Hawkins County. We need to find a reason and work toward mitigating the impact on the environment. We live in a nuclear neighborhood. Oak Ridge is the home of the atom bomb. Tennessee has a number of nuclear processors, including two in Erwin. There's the Aerojet Ordinance Plant in Jonesborough. Now we know nuclear waste is being accepted at Carter's Valley Landfill."
For more information visit http://www.tcwn.org
. To read Out of Control - On Purpose: DOE's Dispersal of Radioactive Waste into Landfills and Consumer Products visit: http://www.nirs.org/radwaste/outofcontrol/outofcontrol