By Evan Belanger Staff Writer
Jun 25, 2017
The Alabama Department of Environmental Management could decide this year whether the publicly owned Decatur-Morgan County Landfill must redesign its leachate treatment system to remove certain industrial chemicals named in an EPA health advisory.
After long-term monitoring for perfluorinated chemicals, or PFCs, in its leachate, the landfill is due to submit an engineering report in August on the feasibility of removing the chemicals from its leachate, according to ADEM spokeswoman Lynn Battle.
She said she could not comment on what action ADEM might require or how much it might cost, because the report had not yet been submitted.
“That report will have to be evaluated to see what it is they will have to do in the future,” she said, estimating ADEM’s review could be complete in September or October.
The landfill’s current operating permit with ADEM, issued in December 2015, allows the landfill to discharge leachate containing PFCs to the Decatur Utilities sewer treatment plant, which has no way to remove the chemicals before they are discharged to the Tennessee River.
It also requires the landfill to monitor for several PFCs, including two named in an Environmental Protection Agency health advisory last year: perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfanate (PFOS).
The health advisory noted long-term exposure through drinking water can lead to certain health problems, including cancers.
While the two chemicals are no longer in use, industrial sludge containing them was legally dumped at the landfill for years, and PFCs have persisted in its leachate.
The potential cost of eliminating the chemicals from its leachate has loomed over the landfill for years.
Its past three annual budgets have included a contingency line item indicating a possible $350,000 to redesign the leachate treatment system, though the contingency was not included in budget totals.
The line item included the notes “unknown at this point” and “waiting on ADEM.”
Decatur Street and Environmental Services Director Ricky Terry said last week that city officials do not plan to include the contingency in the budget for fiscal 2018, which starts Oct. 1.
“We just kept going back with it thinking they were going to pull the trigger on some requirements, and they didn’t, so we just didn’t put it back in there,” he said.
The landfill spent approximately $1.4 million in 2011 on a system to filter its leachate, including about $275,000 for filtration equipment and money for a retention pond and a building to house the equipment.
Terry said the system worked, but additional equipment would have been needed to prevent the filters from clogging. The equipment has been idle since 2013.
Terry said the landfill, which funds itself through tipping fees, could probably afford the initial expense of restarting the system, but he was uncertain about the long-term expense of continued treatment.
Noting the city apparently was expecting an ADEM mandate to remove PFCs from its leachate three years ago, David Whiteside, founder of Tennessee Riverkeeper, criticized ADEM for its inaction.
“If ADEM had been doing their job in the first place … there would be no need for expensive technology from the city,” he said.
Tennessee Riverkeeper is suing manufacturers that once used PFOA and PFOS, along with the city of Decatur, Morgan County, a privately owned landfill, and others, seeking a court order that they clean up environmental contamination.
The Decatur-Morgan County Landfill is jointly owned by the city and the county. Its operations are overseen by the city.