Support House Bill 212 to limit dump heights, protect communities

A good bill, HB 212, and a bad bill, HB 184

Waste Management, probably the largest and most political dump operator in the US, wants to expand in Delaware.  It wants to raise the maximum height of its deceptively named “Delaware Recycled Products” dump near Minquadale, just south of Wilmington, from 130 feat to 190 feet above sea level.  The 130 foot limit, which may have been given as a promise to the community, is being approached and the dump can be expected to close.  But dumps are profitable and Waste Management has a LOT of political clout. 

Aside from creating an unsightly “Mount Trashmore,” the highest point in the area, expanding the dump would expose neighboring communities to continuing air and water pollutants, dust, traffic, and noise.  The communities neighboring the dump are “environmental justice” communities, made up largely of people-of-color, people with relatively low incomes, and people with increased incidences of environment-related cancer and other causes of death and disease.  They have suffered enough already.

The history of this dump and others in the area is worth a look.  Many sand and gravel pits operated in the area in the 1960s and 1970s, harvesting alluvial deposits of sand and gravel.  These were dug down to the water line, that water being in the Potomac aquifer, from which public and private wells drew large amounts of drinking water.  These shutdown pits were then used as dumps by New Castle County and others.  Drums of liquid chemical wastes were tossed in along with municipal trash and garbage.  Eventually the waste deposits were covered up with fill dirt and forgotten about.

As one would expect, as any responsible official should have expected, drums rusted and the toxic contents leaked into the Potomac aquifer, eventually creating some of the worst “Superfund” sites in the US.  Dumps in the area that fit this pattern of former sand and gravel operations that became Superfund sites include Tybouts Corner Landfill, Army Creek Landfill, and Delaware Sand and Gravel. (EPA List of Superfund Sites in Delaware.  But remember, not every badly contaminated site is a Superfund site, even if it should be.)

The present Waste Management site apparently never became a Superfund site but perhaps should have.  The immediate concern expressed by Artesian Water and others is that the additional weight of 60 feet of additional material will squeeze contaminants out of the unlined dump cells and into the Potomac aquifer, polluting more drinking water wells.

Clearly, it seems to us, the expansion should not be allowed.
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What happens now?  Some state legislators and New Castle County officials have expressed opposition to the “vertical expansion.”  What the DNREC has in mind we don’t know.  After an initial conversation, Green Delaware is getting a total stonewall.  It does often seem that the primary DNREC regulatory weapon is the rubber stamp, and this seems especially true under the indifferent-to-almost-everything Governor John Carney.

There are two proceedings going on in regard to the dump expansion:

In the General Assembly:

House Bill 212 would limit dumps to no higher than 130 feet above sea level.  Sponsors are “Rep. Cooke & Rep. Longhurst & Rep. Minor-Brown & Sen. Brown, Reps. Chukwuocha, Dorsey Walker, Kowalko; Sens. Ennis, Lockman.”

This has been through a House committee, but it needs to pass the whole house, a Senate committee, and the whole Senate before the legislative session winds up on June 30th.

The permit application for the expansion:

Information on this is posted by the DNREC here.

The record remains open for public comment through Friday, June 28th.  Comments can be sent to Hearing Officer Lisa Vest: (Lisa.Vest@delaware.gov) and/or to DNRECHearingComments@delaware.gov.

The DNREC is likely to take a narrow view of the question “Does the application comply with the regulation on solid waste?”  These regulations are as full of holes as a Swiss cheese.

We suggest also sending comments to Governor Carney ( https://governor.delaware.gov/email-governor-carney/) and DNREC Secretary Shawn Garvin (shawn.garvin@delaware.gov) (Like many public officials,Carney conceals his working email and forces ordinary constituents to use the email contact form.)  You can also tweet to the Governor: @JohnCarneyDE or comment on his facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/JohnCarneyDE/

Let House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf know you want HB 212 to pass the house:  Peter.Schwartzkopf@delaware.gov .

Green Delaware’s comments are below.

Please also note that a very bad bill, HB 184, is advancing in the house.  Details here.  Please oppose this.

Alan Muller
Green Delaware

****************************************

Lisa Vest, Hearing Officer
DNREC

Dear Lisa:

Here are some thoughts from us.  I would appreciate if these were read out at the hearing this evening. [They were not.]

This is a classic Environmental Injustice” situation yet the DNREC, which has had a “community ombudsman” for around twenty years, has not factored environmental justice considerations into permitting decisions in a substantive way.  Therefore it seems to me that the DNREC simply does not have in place the capability to make decisions regarding such an application and as such it should not be entertained.  This is a fundamental deficiency in the Regulations.

Both of the nearby-community organizations which have provided written support for the project state that they are receiving free services and/or cash from the applicant.  In other contexts this would be regarded as bribery.  At the least, the opinions expressed by these organizations should be given little weight.

The history of this dump indicates that it was previously used as a sand and/or gravel pit.  Thus we have unlined cells sitting in (very likely) hydraulic communication with aquifers used for water supply.  This is a situation that has been common in Delaware and has predictable and ultimately harmful and expensive consequences.  It is likely that the proposed addition of 60 feet of additional overburden would have the effect of pushing interstitial (pore) liquids into the underlying aquifers and further contaminating groundwater.  This along would indicate rejection of the proposal.

“The DRPI Landfill property was previously operated as a sand and gravel pit from about 1954 until about 1982. During that period, sand and gravel of the underlying Columbia Formation were excavated to approximately the top of the Potomac Formation.” (VIII-3)

In odd terminology, applicants describe membranes installed on top of existing deposits as “liners.”  This seems a terminological way of converting unlined cells into “lined” cells.  The authors should know the difference between a cap and a liner.

“Cells 1, 2, and 3 were unlined but are currently being lined with overlay liner.” (VIII-3)

“the construction of liner [sic] system over previously unlined waste materials will serve to minimize many potential long-term impacts to human health and the environment.” (VIII-4)

 At VIII-10, it is indicated that within 1/4 mile (of the property  boundary?) “A total of 140 wells were identified of which 88 are active, pending, or completed (i.e., 52 are abandoned, expired or voided).”  88 active wells within 1/4 mile!  All of  these wells should be tested and their use determined.

At the very least, the Division of Public Health (Safe Drinking Water Act  program) and  the operators of production wells in the area should be asked to agree in writing that the are not concerned about negative impacts, and the applicant should be required to demonstrate financial responsibility for possible negative impacts.

The “compliance history” summary (only from January 1, 2014 to January 23, 2019) shows 12 citations but zero penalties.  This does not suggest significant or adequate enforcement history.

The Environmental Impact Assessment, ag page VIII-1, states:

“This EAR was prepared by Geosyntec Consultants in Columbia, Maryland in 2004, revised in 2005 as part of the Cell 6 Expansion. The current EAR (Version 3) is largely unchanged except as it relates to the vertical expansion and slightly revised disposal footprint near the entrance that provided more buffer to neighboring residents.”

Thus it appears that the work is fifteen years old and may not reflect current conditions and current understanding of the hydrology of the area.

Again, from page VIII-2:

“To complete this evaluation, Geosyntec supplemented historical information with data collected during: (i) a site reconnaissance performed on 25 February 2004; (ii) interviews with personsknowledgeable about the DRPI Landfill and its operations; (iii) correspondence with federal, state, and local officials; and (iv) reviews of applicable site records provided by DRPI, permits, and published literature.”

So it appears that the authors of the report, if not the entire application, have not visited the site in over fifteen years.

Wetlands on the site are waved off as “isolated wet areas dominated mainly by Phragmites”.

The literature on the health impacts of air pollution is expanding very rapidly.  For example:  https://www.theguardian.com/environment/ng-interactive/2019/may/17/air-pollution-may-be-damaging-every-organ-and-cell-in-the-body-finds-global-review

It is highly likely that the health of residents in the area of the Waste Management dump is impacted by regulated air pollutants.  Available information indicates that cancer rates and cardiovascular ilnesses in the area are elevated.  A Health Impact Analysis  pursuant to  CDC guidelines should be performed, considering the alternatives of the proposed expansion vs allowing the dump to close when it reaches its presently permitted elevations (or before!).  In doing this, fugitive emissions should be fully considered including traffic emissions.

OK, I could go on for a long time with concerns and objections, but I hope these are enough to make a point:  That the request permit modification should  be denied.

Respectfully submitted,

[signed]

Alan Muller
Executive Director, Green Delaware

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