Environmental Health News

What's Working

  • Garden Mosaics projects promote science education while connecting young and old people as they work together in local gardens.
  • Hope Meadows is a planned inter-generational community containing foster and adoptive parents, children, and senior citizens
  • In August 2002, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board voted to ban soft drinks from all of the district’s schools

#180 - Commercial Hazardous Waste Landfills, 08-May-1990

Despite widespread recognition that all landfills leak and thus
contaminate the local environment, it is still common in the U.S. to
bury industrial poisons in the ground.

There are 21 commercial hazardous waste landfills in the U.S. today; a
"commercial" landfill takes wastes from anyone for a fee. (There are
also 35 non-commercial landfills run by individual companies to handle
their own wastes. In a future article, we will discuss these 35
"captive" or "onsite" chemical dumps.)

Of the 21 commercial chemical dumps operating today, 16 have received
their final Part B permits under the federal Resource Conservation and
Recovery Act (RCRA). Five are awaiting approval of a Part B and, in the
meantime, are operating under "interim status."

Seven of the 21 have permits issued under the federal Toxic Substances
Control Act (TSCA), which allows them to bury PCBs (polychlorinated
biphenyls) in the ground. In the following discussion, an asterisk next
to the location of a dump means it is licensed for PCB burial. A number
inside square brackets indicates the legally-permitted total capacity
of the facility, in cubic yards (if data are available).

The biggest chemical dumper is Chemical Waste Management, Inc. (often
called Chemwaste), a subsidiary of Waste Management, Inc. of Oak Brook,
IL. Chemwaste operates seven chemical dumps: at Emelle, AL [2,145,733];
Calumet City, IL [3,000,000]; Fort Wayne, IN [2,800,000]; Lake Charles,
LA [5,300,000]; *Model City, NY [850,000]; *Kettleman City, CA
[5,700,000] (Kettleman Hills Treatment Center); and Arlington, OR
[2,180,000] (Chem-Security Systems, Inc.).

Chemwaste is currently expanding its Model City dump and plans to add a
TSCA PCB license as soon as possible. Chemwaste has applied for
modifications to its Part B permits to expand its dumps at Kettleman
Hills, CA, and at Fort Wayne, IN. In addition, Chemwaste plans to add a
500,000 cubic yard chemical dump at its Port Arthur, TX, hazardous
waste incinerator. This new dump would principally accept toxic ash
from the incinerator but would also serve as a commercial chemical
poison burial site.

CECOS, the hazardous waste subsidiary of BFI (Browning-Ferris
Industries), owns four chemical dumps but only two are operating today;
the CECOS dumps at Williamsburg, OH, and at Niagara Falls, NY both had
their Part B permit applications denied and are shutting down. After
this setback, BFI announced it would close CECOS itself and get out of
the business of burying chemical poisons in the ground. This leaves
unclear the future of their one operating dump, at Livingston, LA, and
their new, aptly-named Last Chance dump near Denver, CO, which has a
Part B permit but hasn't yet started accepting waste. No doubt they
will try to sell these dumps to someone like Chemwaste soon.

GSX Chemical Services operates two chemical dumps, one at Pinewood, SC
[135,000/yr], and one, which they are presenting trying to expand, in
Westmoreland, CA. GSX also has immediate plans to expand an old dump,
which is presently accepting only petroleum wastes, in Kern County, CA.

Rollins Environmental Services operates dumps at Deer Park, TX, and at
Baton Rouge, LA; U.S. Pollution Control, Inc. buries poisons in the
ground at Grassy Mountain, *Tooele (or Murray), UT [1,335,000], and at
Fairview, OK [315,666]. Envirosafe Services operates chemical dumps in
Oregon, OH [5,900,000], and in Grandview, ID [2,500,000]. U.S. Ecology
has dumps in *Beatty, NV [1,000,000], and at Robstown, TX (where they
operate under the name Texas Ecologists).

There are two privately held companies (which is to say, their stock is
not for sale to the public) in the chemical burial business: Peoria
Disposal at Pottstown, IL [2,400,000], and Wayne Disposal at Bellville,
MI. The Four County Landfill near South Bend, IN, run by a third
private company, Environmental Waste Control, Inc., is presently not
accepting waste. Wayne disposal is seeking a license for a new dump, 15
miles south of Bellville, MI, where they also hope to operate an
incinerator.

Exciting new developments in the poison-burial business include these:
a new company, Hunter Environmental Services, through its subsidiary,
Hunter Industrial Facilities, Inc. (HIFI), is developing an industrial
park near Houston, TX, where they hope to bury 100 million cubic yards
of poisons in underground salt domes. This would be by far the biggest
poison dump in the world. A HIFI representative says they will solidify
the poisons in concrete or fly ash, or whatever seems to work, before
burial. They hope to begin construction by October, 1990.

Westinghouse has also announced that their Environmental Systems and
Services Division plans to get into the poison burial business within
two or three years. A spokesperson for the company says they have
identified five or six sites around the country suitable for burying
toxins, but they have not yet requested a RCRA permit for any of them.
They say they hope to be actually burying poisons in the ground within
two or three years. "Landfill disposal is a logical extension of the
services we provide right now and our goal is to become a full service
company. We feel we have the resources and the management experience to
enter that business and do it responsibly," said Vaughan Gilbert, a
company spokesman. It is not clear what constitutes "responsible"
burial of chemical poisons in the ground, since everyone, including the
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, now agrees that all landfills
eventually leak. (See, for example, RHWN #37.) This issue aside,
Westinghouse has shown itself to be an innovator in the production and
distribution of toxins into the environment. They effectively
contaminated the entire town of Bloomington, Indiana with PCBs, then
proposed to clean up the community by burning the PCBs in an
incinerator, which they propose to fuel with municipal garbage. Based
on their record of performance to date, we feel sure that communities
will come out to meet them as they announce their new poison burial
plans in the next year or so.

Three states are currently siting new hazardous waste landfills:
Arizona has awarded a contract to ENSCO (an Arkansas company) to build
a full service treatment storage and disposal facility near Phoenix.
ENSCO has submitted a Part B application and a TSCA permit for burying
PCBs.

Minnesota has signed a contract with International Technology
Corporation (IT Corp) and Chem-Security of Canada to operate a
hazardous waste dump in the northwest portion of the state. The
capacity is reported to be 15,000 to 20,000 tons of waste each year.
Preliminary site selection is scheduled to begin in late 1990.

North Carolina is reportedly in the process of siting a full service
storage, treatment, and disposal facility with a capacity of 10,000
tons per year, including a dump for toxic incinerator ash.

It is interesting to note that 20 of these 21 landfills use high
density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic liners to try to protect the local
environment from contamination. On the shortcomings of HDPE, see RHWN
#117. The Rollins dump in Deer Park, TX, relies entirely on clay. (On
clay, see RHWN #125).

Of the 35 captive or on-site, non-commercial chemical dumps operating
today, more than half (18) are in Texas; West Virginia has three;
Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Indiana and Michigan each have two; New
Jersey, Illinois, and California each have one. Overall, we note a high
proportion of chemical poison dumps in southern states.

During 1989, the nation's 21 commercial chemical dumps buried 2.98
million tons of poisons; the 35 captive or on-site dumps buried 680,000
tons.

This summary is based mainly on information appearing in the February,
1990, issue of EI DIGEST a monthly magazine subtitled Industrial and
Hazardous Waste Management. EI DIGEST is available for $350 per year
from Environmental Information, Ltd., 4801 West 81st Street, Suite 119,
Minneapolis, MN 55437; phone (612) 831-2473.

--Peter Montague

=====

Descriptor terms: hazardous waste landfills; rcra; cwmi; wmi; bfi;
westinghouse; waste disposal industry; pcbs; incineration; ash;