RI’s Central Landfill Named To 2012 “Dirty Dozen” Worst Polluters

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


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Rhode Island's Johnston Landfill is one of the 12 worst polluters in New England for 2012, earning it a "Dirty Dozen" ranking.

Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation’s (RIRRC) Central Landfill in Johnston has been named one of the Top 12 polluters in New England.

The landfill is being awarded a 2012 Dirty Dozen Award due to its ongoing contamination of precious air and water resources in Rhode Island, and the lack of progress made by RIRRC to commit to reduce, reuse, recycle and getting Rhode Island on a path towards zero waste. As the landfill continues to expand and accept more and more of Rhode Island’s waste, the potential hazards to surrounding communities only increase. As more and more local residents experience dangerous effects of living nearby this hazardous landfill, it is crucial to move to cleaner, more sustainable solutions.

For years, Toxics Action Center has annually “celebrated” the Dirty Dozen Awards, profiling 12 of New England’s egregious polluters who have failed to take appropriate action to address their pollution problems. All of the sites pose a significant threat to public health and the environment and need immediate action by industry and/or government officials, according to the organization.

The Dirty Dozen

Massachusetts takes the crown for the state with the most polluters on the list. Rhode Island has the least amount of polluters listed and is the only state in New England with just one.

Here are all the "honorees" for 2012 (see their location in New England in the map):

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1. Advanced Disposal Services, Moretown, VT and South Hadley, MA

2. Brayton Point Coal Power Station, Somerset, MA

3. Casella Waste Management, Old Town and Statewide, ME

4. Central Landfill, Johnston, RI

5. Connecticut Environmental Council, Marlborough and Statewide, CT

6. Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority, Statewide, CT

7. Nuclear, Vernon, VT and Plymouth, MA

8. General Electric, Pittsfield, MA

9. Harbor Superfund Site and Parker Street Waste Site, New Bedford, MA

10. Public Service of New Hampshire, Portsmouth and Bow, NH

11. Raymark Superfund Site, Stratford, CT

12. Tar Sands Pipeline, VT, NH and South Portland, ME

The Central Landfill

"The Central Landfill is a nuisance," said Jamie Rhodes, RI Director for Clean Water Action, about Rhode Island's top polluting site in the new report. "As a state we need to reduce its negative impacts while preserving its benefits. Diverting material from the landfill through recycling and composting reduces the public health threat while preserving the life of this landfill." Rhode Island does not want to be in a position, said Rhodes, where it needs to open a new landfill or resort to incineration. "Let's push for zero waste and support state and local policies that use post-consumer material as a valuable commodity rather than waste destined for the landfill."

Dangerous Hazardous Waste

Rhode Island's active landfill processes approximately 2,500 tons of waste per day. The landfill is currently comprised of five distinct areas. One of these areas, a 121-acre area (sometimes called the Phase 1 area), was used prior to 1980 for the disposal of municipal and hazardous waste. Located within the 121-acres, Phase 1 area is an approximately half-acre area where more than 1.5 million gallons of documented hazardous wastes were disposed of between 1976 and 1979. Within this half-acre hazardous waste area, bulk liquid waste was dumped into trenches that had previously been excavated into bedrock. The wastes disposed of in this area included latex waste, acid waste, corrosive waste, water soluble oils and waste solvents.

On-site groundwater is contaminated with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and heavy metals. Adjacent surface waters, sediments, and wetlands have also been affected by low levels of contamination. The bedrock aquifer underlying the site has been contaminated. This site was added to the Superfund National Priorities List in 1986.

This past summer, residents in surrounding communities reported smelling a putrid odor emanating from the landfill, detectable in many new areas that had previously been sheltered from the smell. Approximately 4,000 people live within three miles of the site.

No Serious Action Taken

Government bodies have taken some action to mitigate effects from pollution and odors on local residents, but the history of the landfill also includes a pattern of failure by the landfill operator to comply with government mandates.

In December 2002, the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corp. was ordered to pay over five million dollars to install mandated odor reduction technologies. This included $321,000 worth of fines for numerous Clean Air Act violations. Specifically, the landfill was ordered to install 14 horizontal landfill gas collection trenches, install cover and capping materials to trap escaping landfill gas, limit water infiltration into the waste, and increase the efficiency of already existing collection and control systems, and install an ultra-low emissions flare which would burn landfill gas substantially more cleanly than most flares on the market.

Ten years later, in February of 2012, the Department of Environmental Management fined the landfill operators $55,000 for failing to completely follow these mandates and prevent objectionable odors from escaping the site.

In May 2012, a special legislative committee met to discuss ways to reduce odors at the site after many residents complained and expressed anger at having to deal with the smells day after day. The lawmakers installed gas flares and wells to eliminate some of the odors, but were working towards a more permanent solution. Since the addition of these gas flares and wells, resident complaints have decreased.

In June 2012, Rhode Island lawmakers mandated that air quality detectors be installed near the landfill.

View the full report here.


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