Environmental Activist. Nicolas Kynigos.
Editorial :Tangelia Wagner Reed.


Impact on Landfills

The North Carolina Department of Transportation Web site reported in July 2009, that there are 2,319 inactive hazardous waste pollutant sites in the state of North Carolina.2 In the typical inactive landfill, there have been no attempts to control leaching generation or toxic release in these landfills or dumpsites. The Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice analyzed EPA data in May 2009 that indicated that residents who live near coal ash waste ponds have a 1 in 50 chance of getting cancer from drinking water contaminated by arsenic, pollutants from coal ash. Coal-fired power plants dispose of nearly 100 million tons of toxic fly ash, bottom ash, and scrubber sludge in more than 200 landfills and wet ponds across the United States each year. North Carolina has 17 coal ash dumpsites within the state.

Impact on Drinking Water When these substances reach groundwater, the contamination can be very damaging, particularly if it reaches drinking water as seen in the New York Times article in December 2009. The report indicated that more than 20 percent of the nation’s water treatment systems have violated some kind of Safe Drinking Water Act within the past five years. Forty-nine million people have been exposed to illegal chemicals like arsenic or radioactive substances like uranium, as well as dangerous bacteria found in the sewage. The EPA reported that more than three million Americans have been exposed to cancerous drinking water since 2005.5 An alternative to dumping chemical waste into our waste streams is more important than ever.

The present definition of biomass does not include chemicals like arsenic or radioactive substances. If these hazardous chemical wastes are added to the definition of biomass, our water systems may not receive as much contamination as it has. We may have a better chance of good quality drinking water for all people. These types of hazards could be eliminated if disposed of through a gasification process. Cancer Risks Other studies have suggested associations between residence living near landfills containing hazardous waste and cancer.

One particular study shows that people living near incinerators that burned hazardous waste were most likely to develop all cancers of the stomach and lungs. Further investigation is to be done to determine whether there is an increase in liver cancer near these incinerators.6 Use of gasification processes is not the same as incineration of waste materials. Gasification is a chemical process, not a combustion process. The process involved in gasification is a chemical process that converts carbon-containing material into a clean synthesis gas. Gasifiers operate at high temperatures and pressure in an oxygen-limited environment.

The gasification process does not release the CO2 that is seen with the incineration processes. If hazardous waste was considered as biomass, use of incinerators could be outdated. Another study was done to determine whether men who lived near MSW landfill sites were at higher risk for developing cancer than individuals who lived at more remote locations. The data revealed that men who lived near landfill sites have been – and may continue to be – at excess risk of cancers of the liver, kidney, pancreas, and non-Hodgkin's lymphomas.7 MSW landfills are affecting people who live near them. Many city officials deny that the landfills in their districts are affecting the health of its residents. In the case of Greensboro, NC and its White Street landfill, city officials claim that the landfill was not to blame for its resident’s high cancer rate. If MSW was in the definition of biomass, MSW would go to gasification facilities and as the need for MSW landfills decrease so would cases of cancer in people who live near landfills.

It should come as no surprise that living near a landfill is hazardous to everyone’s health. It does not matter whether the landfill holds solid waste or hazardous waste. Hazardous waste landfills hold unwanted toxic residues from manufacturing processes. On the other hand, municipal solid waste landfills hold discarded products, many of which were manufactured from toxic materials. The liquid produced inside the two kinds of landfills is chemically identical. After they have been buried in the ground, both wastes and products create very similar hazards for the environment, wildlife, and humans. EPA Perspective The EPA acknowledged in 1996 in its “FINAL AIR REGULATIONS FOR MUNICIPAL SOLID WASTE LANDFILLS,” that as the waste in a landfill decomposes, it breaks down to form landfill gases, such as methane, smog-causing volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and air toxics, pollutants known or suspected of causing cancer and other serious health effects.

Landfills are the largest anthropogenic source of methane emissions in the United States. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming”.8 The EPA concluded in its 1996 ruling that it would reduce methane from the landfills by 50 percent in year 2000. The Fourth U.S. Climate Action Report indicated that as of June 2007 reported that Methane reduced by only 10 Percent.9 EPA is aware of the dangers of landfills and has begun a gasification system for agricultural byproducts. Like landfills, agricultural has also contributed greatly to greenhouse gases (GHG). Farmers depended on fossil fuel to warm their greenhouses in winter and to fertilize their crops. A gasification system allowed the farmers to use woodchips or grasses as a biomass that is heated to release gases. The gases are scrubbed and used to run an internal combustion engine (ICE). These ICEs distribute electricity and other end uses. Heat from the system is used to warm the greenhouse and biochar is used to enrich the soil. This system demonstrates a carbon neutral system, which is a closed loop process.

Gasification has economic, social, and environmental advantages. If MSW or hazardous waste were added to the definition of biomass, these hazardous materials could become a more useful commodity. Gasification processes can be specifically designed for its products, fuels or energy consumptions.10 Broader Implications Willie J. McDonald, an expert on earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes stated that there are two causes for earthquakes; one generated by the ignition of large pockets of methane gas, and the other is generated by volcanic activity. Although there are underground pockets of methane that do not experience earthquakes, ignition of these pockets will cause an eruption. These methane reservoirs are located all around the planet causing eruptions. They are able to occur in South America, Mexico, California, Alaska, China, Russia, and Iran, and other countries in the Middle East, etc.13 Understanding methane reactions and causes is serious business. The latter would not exist if MSW were including in the definition of biomass. No matter how we look at it, methane is dangerous.

As seen two hundred years ago during the “Cesspool Era”, nearly every residence had a cesspool, which collected and stored wastes beneath its first floor. Fires and explosions were frequent due to methane build up in unventilated cesspools. The 1666 “Great Fire of London” as many called it, burned the city of London to the ground. At that time, the Thames River was nothing but a place for their fleet and their sewer. Not only did the city burn but the river was also on fire. The fire had spread halfway across the London Bridge. The only thing that stopped the fire from spreading to the other side of the river was a gap that had been caused by another fire in 1633. However, there is one good constellation from the fire; The Great Fire of London finally brought the great plague under control.

Today with technologies like gasification, we should not need to worry about incidents from methane build up from our sewers. Sewer sludge could benefit greatly if included in the definition of biomass. In addition, I should mention that only 36 percent of plastic are recycled. The rest goes to landfills. Illegal substances and a wide variety of refuse are accepted on a daily basis into our ordinary municipal landfills. Pulitzer Prize finalist Duff Wilson, a reporter for the Seattle Times wrote in 2001 that recycling might not be our answer. In a story titled, “Fateful Harvest; the True Story of a Small Town, a Global Industry, and a Toxic Secret,”14 Wilson unveiled that the widespread practice of recycling industrial byproducts into fertilizer resulted in the contamination of the soil with various metals. Contamination can remain in recycled materials. The processes involved in recycling products have excluded cleaning of the byproducts. Gasified plastic produces energy and fuels from this chemical process. These fuels go through a scrubber that makes the byproduct carbon neutral. If MSW were including in the biomass definition we would not have to worry with what is in the recycled product. I think it is worth mentioning the world’s biggest landfill is the ocean.

The “Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch” is twice the size of Texas and nothing natural can survive on this plastic island. Charles Moore, a California sea captain and ocean researcher while returning home through the North Pacific Gyre, discovered the garbage patch. This big island of plastic has resulted from marine pollution gathered by oceanic currents. These toxin-containing plastic pieces are eaten by marine life resulting in our consumption of toxic chemicals. Scientists say the Pacific Ocean garbage patch is just one of five giant gyres scattered around the world’s oceans.

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