Conference Keeps Landfill Industry Updated

Every year, the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Industry Associations' (EIA) National Solid Wastes Management Association's (NSWMA) Landfill Institute holds a technical conference to discuss the latest issues affecting landfill operations. At this year's conference, Robert W. Dellinger, Director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Municipal and Industrial Solid Waste Division, Washington, D.C., spoke about the agency's activities on municipal solid waste (MSW) landfill regulations.

According to Dellinger, the three major issues raised about MSW landfill regulations include long-term care, financial assurance requirements and leachate recirculation on alternative liner systems.

The leachate recirculation issue also has been expanded to include the addition of supplemental liquids to create bioreactor landfills. Existing regulations do not allow the addition of bulk liquids.

The first issue Dellinger covered was the EPA's review of MSW landfill criteria under Section 610 of the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA). On Nov. 2, 1999, the EPA published a Federal Register notice announcing its review of the landfill criteria in accordance with 610. Approximately 43 comments were submitted to the EPA in response.

Based on those comments, the EPA published a second Federal Register notice on April 6, 2000, related to leachate recirculation on alternative liners and bioreactor landfills. Most of the comments received on leachate recirculation supported changing the regulations to allow for alternative liners that proved equivalent or better than a composite liner. Current regulations only allow leachate recirculation when using the composite liner specifically described in the federal regulations.

The EPA also received many comments supporting the bioreactor landfill concept. However, some environmental groups strongly preferred a recycling or an aboveground composting strategy to a bioreactor landfill approach. They want the elimination of organic material disposal in landfills.

In addition, the EPA has dealt with bioreactor landfills by:

  • Sponsoring a symposium on bioreactor landfills on Sept. 6-7, 2000, to better understand the potential advantages and disadvantages of bioreactor landfills;
  • Working with state and local governments on bioreactor landfill projects under the EPA's Project XL; and
  • Signing a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRDA) with Waste Management Inc., Houston, to conduct bioreactor and biocover research during the next five years.

At this year's conference, the agency received positive and negative comments about bioreactor landfills. On the positive side, bioreactor landfills increase capacity, have a higher potential for gas recovery and energy production, reduce leachate toxicity, and have the potential to reduce greenhouse gases.

However, bioreactor landfills also may reduce the physical stability of waste because of increased fluidity and density, and may increase the potential for odor emissions and landfill fires. There also is concern about the ability to reduce environmental impacts during post-closure care.

According to Dellinger, the EPA's Office of Solid Waste (OSW) intends to complete the following regarding MSW landfills by late 2001:

  • Propose a regulatory change that would, under appropriate circumstances, allow for recirculation of leachate on alternative liners;
  • Modify current regulations to allow states to issue Research, Development, and Demonstration (RDD) permits for bioreactor landfill projects;
  • Issue guidance that describes those aspects of bioreactor landfills that may prove problematic;
  • Develop a modification to the landfill criteria that allows for clean closure of landfills;
  • Issue modifications to the landfill criteria that conform to last year's Congressional changes to the requirements for siting landfills near certain airports;
  • Begin to research recent changes that the U.S. Geological Survey made to maps showing seismic impact zones within the United States; and
  • Evaluate all of the comments received regarding landfill criteria.

The NSWMA's Landfill Institute actively works with the EPA to gather data, resolve any problem areas and introduce new technologies to the agency.

Edward Repa is director of Environmental Programs at NSWMA, where he manages the Landfill Institute. Alice Jacobsohn is the EIA's acting director of Industry Research and Public Affairs.