Groundwater Contamination

By: Stephanie Baker
By: Stephanie Baker

November 28, 2005
Closed landfills are causing serious problems. Toxins are leaving the Columbia and Richmond County landfills. News 12 investigates how parts are not properly protected and how this is hazardous to your health.

Bleach, dry cleaning fluids, and gasoline are things you don’t want in your water. But Staff Sergeant Terry Goodhart knows it’s there. His mother lives downstream from the Columbia County landfill and gets first-hand exposure to the toxic water.

“She’s feeling nauseous and sick and not well at all,” Goodhart said.

Toxicology Professor Greene Shepherd says the chemicals in the water from both landfills can store up in your fat cells and create long-term problems.

“They can attack your nervous system, they can attack your kidneys,” Dr. Shepherd said.

Engineering Director Jim Leiper says below the grass is layer upon layer of trash. The landfills in both Richmond and Columbia Counties have areas that have been sitting idle for about ten years because they’re outdated. New laws say contaminated garbage cannot come in direct contact with the dirt.

“As water comes into contact with any of that, it’s gonna transport it,” Leiper said.

Landfill Director Don Bartles has been here for twenty years. He has done everything he can to minimize the pollution. The more compact the old trash is, the fewer the toxins are that can escape.

“It has less tendency to bring in and hold moisture in it,” Bartles said.

There are twenty-five wells that line the old area. These are where the contamination levels are tested on a regular basis. The older part does not have a protective layer between the trash and the dirt. So any leftover substances in the trash, like maybe drain cleaner or other cleaning products, wash off the garbage and into the groundwater.

Many toxins the trash lets off eventually vaporize, so Jim Leiper’s solution is to get the methane gas out of the ground.

“The more gas we pull out, the more likely we are to drop the concentration at the property line to zero and also extract the contamination from the groundwater,” Leiper said.

But Staff Sergeant Terry Goodhart is still concerned that the old landfill continues to contaminate the water.

“With a health problem like that, it should be cleaned up,” Goodhart said.

Some of the chemicals are over the limits established by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Byproducts of vinyl plastics and industrial chemicals found in the water are almost double what they should be, and they are known to increase the risk of cancer and anemia.

Traces of certain aerosols, dry-cleaning fluids, and other chemicals from factories in the water increase the risk of cancer and can damage the nervous system, kidneys, and liver.

The further the chemicals get from their point of origin, the less concentrated they become.

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