Solid Waste & Recycling


SWANA study says landfills control release of heavy metals

The SWANA Applied Research Foundation has released the results of a year-long study that concludes that municipal s...

The SWANA Applied Research Foundation has released the results of a year-long study that concludes that municipal solid waste landfills can provide for the 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 review of the published literature 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. In commenting on the report, SWANA’s Executive Director and CEO, John H. Skinner, Ph.D., said, "This study is clearly one of the most significant pieces of work that SWANA has produced in recent years. SWANA endorses and promotes source reduction and recycling programs for products containing heavy metals. However, as 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 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 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 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.

The report, entitled, "The Effectiveness of Municipal Solid Waste Landfills in Controlling the Releases of Heavy Metals to the Environment" is available online at

The SWANA Applied Research Foundation supports SWANA’s mission by carrying its subscriber supported, collective and cooperative applied research projects that address pressing solid waste issues. For over 40 years The Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), has been the leading professional association in the solid waste management field. SWANA’s mission is to advance the practice of environmentally and economically sound management of municipal solid waste. SWANA serves over 7,000 members and thousands more solid waste professionals with technical conferences, certifications, publications and a large offering of technical training courses.

For more information, contact Liz Garavaglia, marketing and public relations coordinator at 1-800-GO-SWANA (467-9262) or or visit

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