An underground landfill fire in St. Louis has been burning for nearly four years, releasing toxic concentrations of benzene and hydrogen sulfide. It threatens to contaminate the water supply with radioactive compounds.
In January 2014, sixty elementary school students and staff were hospitalized following exposure to carbon monoxide from a leaking landfill.
City officials in Bozeman, Montana allowed the construction of a subdivision adjacent to a landfill. Residents are exposed to toxic gas build-up in their homes as contaminated groundwater penetrates the surrounding area.
Landfills are dangerous.The Environmental Protection Agency strictly regulates landfill construction and maintenance, but contaminants still find their way into the air we breath and the water we drink. As we produce more and more garbage, the necessity of landfill construction increases our exposure to toxic chemicals.
Finding suitable locations for new landfills is difficult. (1 2 3) The EPA will not permit landfill construction in environmentally sensitive areas like wetlands and floodplains. Here in Florida, water is everywhere. As the state population grows, development encroaches on lower-lying areas, increasing the pressure to build landfills on less-desirable sites.
Trucking waste to far-flung sites produces a different set of problems. Heavy waste-transport vehicles increase infrastructure costs along their routes. Surrounding roads and waterways are subject to pollution from particulate waste tracked in and out of landfills by vehicle wheels.
Landfills require much expensive maintenance. Unchecked methane buildup can result in explosions. Disruption of groundwater monitoring and leachate collection will contaminate surrounding soil and groundwater and continue to spread. Disrupting erosion control practices can expose previously buried waste.
Even closed landfills require long-term care. Double lined or not, degradation over time will eventually cause all landfills to leak into the ground or into the air. In time, we may no longer have the resources to continue containing toxins within landfill sites.
Landfills are a viable source of materials. Archaeologists mine ancient midden mounds to better understand the cultures that produced them. Waste pickers are common in developing countries, but toxic exposure is inevitable. Tomorrow’s landfill excavators will continue to contend with a host of deadly toxins in order to rescue material. What will they learn about us?
Building materials make up nearly half of landfill content. Eco Relics is dedicated to keeping architectural salvage and building materials out of landfills, thereby reducing the overall demand for more landfills. Although the EPA describes them as “well-engineered facilities…designed to protect the environment from contaminants,” landfills continue to threaten public safety and health. Reducing the demand for landfill acreage is part of a broader strategy to mitigate human ecological impacts.