Garbage ‘juice’ idea nixed

Published 10:37 am Tuesday, August 22, 2017

WINDSOR – There’ll be no snowblowing of garbage juice, at least not at the Republic Services landfill in Bertie County.

That moniker was given by state General Assembly members to describe a controversial method of collecting the liquid that leaks from landfills and then spraying it into the air.

With the passing of House Bill 576 three landfills in the state were given the green light to undertake the process – called aerosolization.

One of those landfills with a permit for aerosolization was East Carolina Environmental, the Bertie County landfill located on Republican Road near Aulander.

However, Governor Roy Cooper vetoed the bill despite the process receiving approval from the state Department of Environmental Quality.

The disposal method has drawn criticism from environmentalists and some neighbors, but it could become more common if the legislature overrides the governor’s veto.

The state Department of Environmental Quality approved the spraying process for the three landfills, plus a coal-ash dump in Chatham County. The permits can be used for 90 days.

The bill, passed by the legislature and vetoed in June by Cooper, would require the department to approve spraying at lined landfills where wastewater is prevented from escaping into the soil. The agency would also be allowed to consider the process for unlined landfills and certain landfills would be allowed to spray without a permit.

A pumping system takes the water from where it is stored and turns it into mist that fans direct to a contained area of the landfill. The idea is that water will evaporate and the contaminated particles fall back into the landfill.

Republic Services, in a February 2016 presentation to state lawmakers, outlined the costs of the current process for disposal of the wastewater. Setting up the process, including an evaporation pond for the waste and a system to treat the wastewater and truck it to a waste disposal site, can cost about $4 million upfront and tens of thousands of dollars more a month to operate.

The equipment used to pump and spray the wastewater costs between $120,000 and $180,000, according to the presentation. That equipment is designed and manufactured in North Carolina.

Meanwhile, alert local residents had been closely following the legislation and began passing along their concerns to the County Commissioners.  Bertie County Manager Scott Sauer contacted Albemarle Regional Health Services (ARHS) in Elizabeth City, the area’s authority on solid waste disposal.

“The County had alerted ARHS Director Mr. Battle Betts, to the serious concerns regarding HB 576 and the potential risks for loosening of environmental regulations regarding the treatment of liquid leachate and the aerosolizing technique purportedly supported by Republic Services,” Sauer said in a memo.

“Mr. Betts called (Friday, Aug. 11 in the afternoon) to share his support for the County’s position and to report on his conversation with Drew Isenhour, President of Republic Services regarding this matter,” Sauer continued.  “ARHS also governs a solid waste authority covering several northeastern NC counties, which operates a transfer station under contract with Republic Services to transport waste to the landfill in Bertie County.  (Bertie County) Commissioner (Tammy) Lee serves on the ARHS executive board and has encouraged Mr. Betts to assist the County on this important matter.”

Sauer said Isenhour agreed to test the new technology, and make at least two reports to the General Assembly.

The aerosolozation test was conducted at Upper Piedmont Landfill in Orange County near Rougemont.

Isenhour also reported to Betts that the technology does not work and Republic Services is not pursuing this technology any further.

“As an industry leader in landfill management, we are committed to working with regulators on new ideas and approaches to site operations.” Isenhour reported. “Some time ago, in collaboration with the Department of Environmental Quality, we conducted a proof of concept test to evaluate a specific aerosolization technique as a possible alternative for liquids management.

“Based on the demonstration, we have concluded that the technique is not a viable alternative for our liquids management in North Carolina. We have no plans for its future use or application,” the Republic president stated.

Isenhour said his company takes great pride in being a responsible operator.

“We believe this involves both being a good neighbor and continually pursuing innovation,” he acknowledged. “We remain committed to working with regulators on future ideas and opportunities that might further enhance the management of an evolving waste stream.”