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Landfill leak keeps crews busy

Staff Photo: Crystal Tatum Greg Knapp with All South Environmental Services pumps leachate from the landfill cell that will be hauled to the wastewater treatment plant in Porterdale.

Staff Photo: Crystal Tatum Greg Knapp with All South Environmental Services pumps leachate from the landfill cell that will be hauled to the wastewater treatment plant in Porterdale.

COVINGTON -- Crews are working to remedy a damaged pump system at Newton County Landfill that resulted in potentially contaminated water leaking into a stormwater pond.

Officials describe a perfect storm of events that occurred over the last few weeks that resulted in leachate -- which is any type of water, including rainwater and groundwater, that has come into contact with garbage -- flowing into a stormwater pond that is released into the Yellow River, about 300 feet away.

Thus far, testing by the Environmental Protection Division has revealed low-level contaminants in the pond but the river appears to not be affected, although testing results are preliminary and more testing will be ordered, according to Jeff Cown, assistant chief of EPD's Land Protection Branch.

Five groundwater wells in the immediate area will also be tested for potential contaminants, said Robert Krasko with Geological, Environmental and Management Services Inc., the county's environmental consultant.

Krasko said it's important to remember that while surface water could travel to the river within half an hour, groundwater travels at a much slower pace -- 20 feet per year. That means contaminates in the groundwater, if they exist, could take years to get to the ground wells and during that time, the soil acts like a purification system. The wells are 700 to 800 feet from the river, so it would take contaminated groundwater decades more to reach the river, he said.

"We'll be watching the wells over the next several years," to makes sure they are contaminant-free, Krasko said.

The storm water pond where the leachate ran is being pumped and once dry, the soil will be sampled for contamination. The pumped water is being hauled to the Water and Sewerage Authority's Wastewater Treatment Plant in Porterdale. That's where the leachate is normally pumped directly from the landfill through a series of underground pipes and lift stations.

Trouble began when the decade-old system started experiencing pumping problems due to wear and tear, according to Krasko.

Then, a crisis occurred on July 27 when lightning struck the command system that electronically signals the pumps when to kick off and on, said James Peters, landfill executive director. Then another pump ran hot, and also went out, Peters said.

The remaining pumps couldn't keep up with all the rainfall -- nearly 9 inches in five days.

As a result, the leachate built up in the landfill cell and ran down the embankment into the pond, which nearly overflowed.

Krasko said a "near-catastrophic" situation was averted by landfill staff who came on site to manually pump and keep an eye on the situation. There were crews working around the clock to keep more leachate from leaking and possibly getting into the river.

The leachate from the pond and from the landfill itself is being pumped at a rate of eight to 10 trucks per day. Storm water is being diverted to another smaller pond onsite.

Krasko said the pumping system is being overhauled and simplified to take away some of the more complicated electronic operations, for example, installing a float system, similar to a float in a toilet, that will trigger pumping.

The cost to do all this has so far reached nearly $100,000 and "we're not done," Krasko said, noting that it could take as long as another month to get everything repaired and remedied.

Krasko said more frequent checks and maintenance of equipment at the landfill may be in order once everything gets back to normal.

Thomas Manget, an environmental specialist with EPD, has been on site regularly to make sure there is no further discharge and the solutions being employed are compliant.

"Just the fact that some (leachate) got out is a water quality issue," Manget said, noting that there were some low-level contaminants detected in channels running to the river. The EPD's geologist will likely order some additional sampling. But he said it appears to have been a small discharge. The county self-reported the problem to the EPD, he said. There's a chance the county could be cited although the EPD will likely consider all that is being done to remedy the problem and prevent it from happening in the future, he said.