The SWANA Applied Research Foundation has released the results of a year-long study that concludes that properly designed and operated municipal solid waste landfills can provide safe, efficient and long-term management of products containing heavy metals and can effectively control the release of heavy metals to the environment.
After an extensive literature review and ongoing research, SWANA’s Applied Research Foundation found that the natural processes that occur within a municipal solid waste landfill, such as precipitation and absorption, effectively inhibit heavy metals from dissolving into the leachate or being released from the landfill in the form of landfill gas. The study presents extensive data that show that heavy metal concentrations in leachate and landfill gas are generally far below the limits that have been established to protect human health and the environment.
Jeremy O’Brien, Director of the foundation and primary author, said that the study was prompted by a growing concern about the possible adverse effects heavy metal products could have if they were disposed in municipal solid waste landfills.
SWANA’s Executive Director and CEO, John H. Skinner, Ph.D., says his organization endorses and promotes source reduction and recycling programs for products containing heavy metals.
“However,” Skinner says, “this research shows, municipal landfills can provide an effective safety net for heavy metal containing products that are not reduced or recycled.”
According to the report, 130,200 tons of heavy metals were placed in U.S. municipal landfills in the year 2000. Lead represented over 98 per cent of these metals. Cadmium (2.1 per cent) and mercury (0.3 per cent) were also found. Discarded consumer electronics, batteries, thermometers, electronic and electric switches and pigments were major contributors.
The “Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure” (TCLP) is a federally-prescribed test used to determine whether or not a solid waste should be classified as hazardous. The mean concentrations of regulated heavy metals reported in the LEACH 2000 database for non-hazardous waste landfills are at least 10 times less than the TCLP regulatory levels. In addition, the “90th Percentile” leachate values for RCRA heavy metals (values for which 90 per cent of the data points are equal to or below) are all lower than the TCLP regulatory levels.
Among its many observations, the study notes that in establishing final effluent guidelines, the U.S. EPA concluded that national pretreatment standards were not necessary for landfills, finding that municipal wastewater treatment facilities adequately treat pollutants in landfill wastewater and only a very small quantity of pollutant loads discharged to such facilities are further discharged to rivers, streams or estuaries.
The report, entitled, “The Effectiveness of Municipal Solid Waste Landfills in Controlling the Releases of Heavy Metals to the Environment” is available online at www.SWANAstore.com
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The Expert Panel
The SWANA report was dedicated to the memory of the late Dr. Fred Pohland of the University of Pittsburgh who served as the principal advisor to SWANA in its development of the report. According to Director O’Brien, “Dr. Pohland’s life-long research into the chemical and biological processes that take place in landfills helped form the scientific foundation that supports the important conclusions of this report.”
The report was also peer reviewed by an independent panel of the leading academicians and researchers in this field:
Morton A. Barlaz, Ph.D. Professor and Associate Head, Department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering, North Carolina State University;
Debra R. Reinhart, Ph.D. Chair, Civil and Environmental Engineering Department and Professor and Associate Dean, College of Engineering and Computer Science, University of Central Florida; and,
Timothy G. Townsend, Ph.D. Associate Professor, Department of Environmental Engineering Sciences, University of Florida.