Computing Landfill Data

MAINTAINING UP-TO-DATE INVENTORIES, response-action monitoring and data quality for 108 closed landfills posed a challenge for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) — until new technology simplified the job.

In 2000, the St. Paul, Minn.-based MPCA struggled to maintain the responsibilities of its Closed Landfill Program (CLP). The CLP initiates landfill cleanup, closures and assume long-term operation and maintenance for the state's landfills. But resource reductions, increasing amounts of data and the necessity of maintaining data integrity were burdening CLP's staff.

So in 2001, the agency contracted with URS Corp., Minneapolis, to update and customize the CLP's environmental data management system (EDMS). The EDMS was designed to improve MPCA's ability to track closed landfill data and assist the agency in complying with new regulations and standards.

To begin the project, the engineers, hydrogeologists and programmers evaluated the CLP's data-management requirements, business processes and future needs.

The project results were an automated system that organizes and graphically displays environmental monitoring data, including analytical and field measurements of ground and surface water, leachate, landfill gas (LFG) condensate, LFG emissions and flare system performance.

The EDMS combines:

  • Oracle database management,

  • geographic information systems (GIS),

  • graphical user interface (GUI) developed with Microsoft Access, and

  • data presentation with Microsoft Excel.

According to CLP's technical staff members, they now can perform tasks more efficiently with standardized data collection systems, validation, storage, analysis and reporting. The technical staff can track trends and identify problems using data available on their individual computer screens, which was the program's primary intent, MPCA says. The CLP believes the EDMS is flexible enough to incorporate future technological advances to assist the agency in monitoring its landfills for 30 years or more throughout post-closure care.

The EDMS also allows others to obtain the data. For example, the CLP says it receives requests from internal and external customers about the program's landfills, as well as national, state and local government organizations seeking statewide and geographically based environmental data. Because the EDMS currently contains 2.5 million records, it is a useful data resource for the public and private sectors, MPCA says. Consultants and businesses assisting with due diligence, ground and surface water quality, investigations and remediation activities also require site-specific data. And the Minnesota Legislature receives an annual CLP report, which incorporates EDMS data.

With the EDMS, responding to once-difficult and time-consuming data requests is more manageable, the CLP says. And the EDMS gives CLP staff members and customers more confidence in the data because it is electronically submitted by contractors and not integrated into the system until validated.

A Web-based validator linked to the EDMS first validates data based on alpha or numeric result, Chemical Abstracts Society (CAS) number, units, filtered and Toxics Characteristics Leaching Procedure (TCLP) flags and analysis method. Then, the data is imported. The validator ensures that data is not uploaded more than once, MPCA says.

The CLP evaluates the EDMS on data reliability, time- and cost-savings in completing repetitive functions, and promptness in responding to public inquiries. Consequently, the EDMS was designed to:

  • Establish a relational database structure that reinforces data integrity but does not allow incomplete data submittal from contractors, which would minimize user-input errors.

  • The improved data model facilitates speed in data analysis and recovery.

  • A master parameter list table provides minimum and maximum values for every chemical compound.

  • Use the GIU to accommodate users who have only minimal Microsoft Access knowledge, allowing them to manipulate data and not compromise data integrity.

  • Integrate computer-aided design (CAD) drawings of the closed landfills into the GIS for presentation flexibility with other government organizations. CAD standards were established for future surveyed projects.

  • Provide an online dictionary linked to the database data model and programmed into the GUI to allow users to search database field definitions without consulting a hard copy.

The CLP says that the EDMS provides centralized documentation of closed landfill-monitoring activities, gives staff a tool to review statewide CLP data, speeds data retrieval and improves data reliability — enhancing productivity. All of these factors, according to the CLP, improve its ability to achieve environmental benefits while better serving the public.