While making a project presentation some years ago, a person in the audience commented that I was biased. Initially, I interpreted the comment as being negative or that my professional ethics needed to be reexamined.
However, after checking the dictionary, I learned that biased is defined as “prejudices based upon personal knowledge, information or belief.”
Any professional trained and experienced in his or her field of practice therefore is biased.
After 40 years of training and practice as a professional consulting civil engineer, certainly I am biased in understanding what does and does not work in various circumstances as solutions to problems.
During my career, environmental rules, regulations and practices have changed dramatically.
Gone are the days when combined sewers and surface drainage systems simply were discharged without treatment to local ditches, streams and rivers. Those combined sewer and drainage systems, some constructed in the 1800s, are very large problems even to this day.
Many larger and older cities spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year trying to correct the problems those systems have caused. At the time these systems were constructed, they were state-of-the-art and common practice in solving the need (or the problem).
The solution chosen at the time of design and construction was selected because people believed the discharge of untreated waste diluted by surface drainage runoff was the most economical and cost-effective solution to their immediate problems.
Impact projections of waste loads upon the receiving stream were not begun until 1925 when Streeter Phelps developed a formula for predicting the dissolved oxygen sag curve.
When constructed, the waste loads discharged through the combined sewers were diluted with storm water runoff and left to nature to assimilate.
As industrialization, complex chemicals and their by-products were added to these systems, many ditches, streams and rivers were severely and often irreparably impacted.
As a result, the fish in many of our country’s rivers and lakes cannot be safely eaten by people today.
At the time these systems were constructed, people thought they were doing what was necessary to solve their immediate problems.
It was not until 1972, when public law 92-500 was enacted together with billions of dollars in public funding, that a uniform nationwide program began to correct these unintended violations of our environment with respect to wastewater.
Even today, most wastewater collection systems in this nation periodically experience excessive flow quantities due to storm water infiltration and inflow, some at 10 or more times their permitted operating capacity. Even new sewer collection piping has, by regulation, an allowable rate of leakage when it is constructed.
It is a basic truth that people have an extremely difficult task in burying anything in our earth that will not leak.
As another example, in the petroleum product distribution systems of America, for many years single-walled steel tanks were directly buried to contain the gasoline and diesel fuels needed by the public. Piping for these systems was also single walled.
The tanks initially were painted on the exterior. When the paint system failed to protect the tank against corrosion, they were coated on the interior and exterior to inhibit corrosion, but after years of service, they still leaked. We now have a nationwide problem of fuel discharged to the environment requiring remediation.
The designs of the petroleum distribution systems have changed to double-walled tanks and piping, but these systems still have been known to leak into the environment. Even newly constructed service stations have polluted within weeks of being constructed using the newest technology and regulations.
As with other systems as cited above, solid-waste disposal still is evolving. In the past 40 years, the direct bury of solid waste has been stopped by regulations issued as a result of detected environmental problems those systems allowed. The first new requirement was a single “impervious” liner typically composed of compacted clay.
Then, the requirement for a second liner in the form of an artificial membrane was required. When that system continued to reveal environmental problems, a leachate under drain system and second artificial membrane liner was required.
Please be mindful that these system changes all have been implemented in the past 40 years. In basic terms, all liners leak. Artificial liners begin to degrade the day they are manufactured.
The practice of burying solid waste is the cheapest alternative; but in my biased opinion, burying solid waste is not a permanent or safe way to dispose of the waste and the problems it causes.
Much like the combined sewer and storm water drainage systems, the environment still is required to assimilate the leachate from a consolidated large waste pile. Under drain leachate, collection and treatment are not permanent activities. Current landfills, therefore, are not a permanent solution to the problem. The current construction methods simply delay the environmental problems to be corrected by future generations (if possible). The land used for a landfill largely is ruined for any future use. Those living around the landfill are put at risk and their quality of life will be degraded.
The permanent solution to solid-waste disposal is responsible recycling. Burying the waste in the ground may be the immediate cheapest alternative; but the environmental impact eventually must be corrected.
Recycling removes the solid waste from the environment permanently. Recycling may include composting organic matter or using it as fuel for power generation or industrial purposes. When used as fuel, the waste ash may be used as a component of concrete. Metals, glass, plastic, paper and rubber all have valuable reuse potentials.
When we all understand burying of solid waste is not a permanent or even long-term solution for disposal and standards for doing so are in a gradual but constant change, the question becomes: “Must we repeat the mistakes of the past by continuing to violate the one earth we have for us and future generations?”
Others have defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over expecting different results.”
Landfill construction practices have change significantly over the past 40 years, but the industry is in general agreement that the liners being used have and will leak. Each regulatory step being taken attempts to balance the cost of implementation with the environmental outcome.
These steps take years to implement, construct and test. Eventually, the outcome may be the regulatory requirement that all solid waste be 100 percent recycled. Some countries — Bermuda, for example — already have implemented the 100 percent recycle requirement. Other countries, like Scotland, require each household to sort all recyclable materials and deposit them into correct containers at localized recycling collection points.
In the interim, does Bryan County need to become another test site for the “current” solid-waste landfill technology? In my biased opinion, the answer is no. The reason is that the currently proposed landfill construction system is inherently flawed because:
- Everyone in the industry admits the liners leak. The environment will be polluted if the proposed facility is constructed.
- It is impossible to construct anything in the ground that will not eventually leak.
- There is no clearly defined location or method for treating the leachate. Leachate treatment is not a permanent activity.
- The proposed site is largely wetlands and is a ground water recharge area.
- The layout presented violates ground water well setback requirements.
- County Zoning Ordinance required access to the site is not available.
- Should the county permit this project, it would constitute taking of land rights without just compensation.
I admit to being biased with respect to this Bryan County landfill proposal. I am prejudiced based upon my training, knowledge, experience, information and belief. I am opposed to the proposed landfill facility being located near our property for the reasons cited above.
Nivens is a consulting engineer and resident of Black Creek. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.