BRISTOL, Tenn. – Toxicologist Laura Green reiterated her report’s findings Wednesday saying the issues people are suffering from due to the Bristol Virginia landfill are unlikely to cause long-term health effects. She also warned fixing the problems will likely take time.
Green, of Green Toxicology in Brookline, Mass., reviewed her 22-page report along with members of her team speaking virtually and answering questions for more than two hours Wednesday – before a live audience of about 60 people at the Slater Center, more than 160 online and others who could tune in on the city’s public access channel.
“I believe there will not be long-lasting health effects from this. I believe if any of you left and moved to another city, state or country that – other than bad memories - you would be fine,” she said in response to a question. “I do not believe this landfill is causing you long-term harm. That is my belief. That’s my judgment. Can I say it with 100% certainty? I’d be an idiot to do that.”
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She agreed the foul odors are a nuisance and an ongoing problem but said her research, and similar findings by the EPA, don’t show the foul emissions to be a long-term health issue.
Working with Trinity Consultants of Roanoke, air samples were taken at five sites on Nov. 16. The report was issued last month.
Responding to a question about closing the landfill, she said that shouldn’t be the priority.
“It is much more important to fix it than to close it, although I appreciate why you’re hopping mad,” Green said.
Asked about that process, she predicted it could take months to years to fully resolve the issues.
Green said, from her perspective, there are three areas that must be addressed to curtail the emissions and greatly reduce or eliminate the odors that have sparked widespread public concern for more than a year.
The areas are resolving issues with the leachate management, collecting and directing a greater amount of landfill gas and addressing what appears to be a subsurface reaction within the trash that is creating excess heat.
“If the leachate is properly managed and – it’s just plumbing – the smells from that area should diminish within days to weeks of it being fixed. That’s the easy part. I don’t know how much that will help, but it certainly will help some,” Green said. “The smells associated with the fugitive gases because of the smoldering going on and the landfill operators don’t have a handle on that, that’s a much tougher problem to solve.”
The city recently completed installation and connection of 21 additional gas wells to capture landfill gases and are being adjusted to increase collection, consultant Ernie Hoch of Draper Aden Associates said Tuesday. He expects additional gas wells will be needed to capture more of the gases.
The smoldering Green mentioned refers to the theory that subsurface reactions are occurring in the trash that is making some parts of the landfill hotter – something borne out by temperature readings at a number of gas wells, but neither the city’s consultants nor the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality have yet confirmed such a reaction is occurring.
“I do know that the city has appealed to the state and the feds so maybe the cavalry is coming. I hope so,” Green said. “With resources and expertise, it is fixable but putting out a subterranean, smoldering thing – whatever it is – is a technically very difficult thing to do … I think there is a short-term fix that ought to happen in a couple months and a longer-term fix that will probably take at least a year, maybe more … Malodors are malodors and if you’re sensitized to them, you’re sensitized to them. And it’s a damn shame.”
Much of her report focused on above normal levels of benzene in the air but she also addressed levels of benzene found in the landfill’s wastewater.
She said, while levels are higher than normal in the air, they aren’t high enough to cause health problems and aren’t part of the odor issue, because it is an odorless gas.
“Benzene is always present in outdoor air,” Green said. “The levels of benzene in air around the landfill and in neighborhoods within a mile or two on either side of the state line are on the order of 10, as much as 20 times higher than attributable from ordinary admissions from cars, trucks, any kind of oil burner or gas burner. The landfill is an unusual source of benzene vapors, but virtually all of the benzene has nothing to do with the garbage…We discovered there appears to be an underground storage tank or some other thing that probably at one point was filled with gasoline and it’s leaking.”
Many of Wednesday’s questions focused on her assertion of the benzene’s likely source.
“If you look at the benzene concentrations in the water coming into the quarry, that’s higher than the benzene concentrations than in the water coming through the trash. That’s how we know the source of benzene has to be somewhere outside the landfill and outside of the quarry,” Green said.
Responding to another question, Green said the steep curve of increased benzene – going from in compliance to consistently out of compliance in recent years – and separate samples showing water entering the quarry versus water going through the garbage.
“The samples of water coming into the quarry have more benzene in them so there is clearly an exterior source,” Green said.