Case Study

Virginia's Landfills are an Incident In-waiting

More than 150 landfills across Virginia are leaking pollutants and contaminating groundwater, according to state officials and government records.

According to the Landmark News Service story the problem affects almost every community in Virginia. In addition it alleged that several hundred more never-examined sites statewide--old dumps, abandoned landfills, and illegal waste yards--are guilty of similar causation.

State records show that 30 municipal landfills lack such modern environmental safeguards as underground liners. About 5100 tons of household trash--15% of Virginia's daily waste load-wends its way to these 30 active sites each day. Of the 30, 21 are leaking, according to state records.

The state permits 542 municipal, construction, and industrial landfills. More than half, 298, go untested for groundwater contamination because they closed prior to December 1988, when state landfill regulations took effect.

Of the remaining 244 landfills required to sample groundwater, 158, or 65%, have tested sufficiently "positive" to merit more analysis, according to the wire service.

To date, however, the state reportedly has done little rectification. One reason is the state regulatory program for landfills. The wire service described it as so complicated and understaffed as to take years to verify a leak and determine a remedy.

Until late in 1998, three DEQ employees had responsibility for managing almost 250 landfills. (Now there are three.) So despite Virginia's requiring groundwater testing for nearly 11 years, in that time it has yet to require a single landfill clean up. In fact, only six seeping landfills have specific standards in place to trigger a cleanup, according to the records.

Moreover, the DEQ has said that landfill operators and their consultants routinely downplay warning signs, consistently ask for deadline extensions, file late reports, and often skip agency guidelines.