Keep Downey Beautiful hears about landfills

DOWNEY - Keep Downey Beautiful has a 30-plus-year history of community involvement striving to maintain a beautiful Downey. Its most visible activity is its monthly Saturday morning cleanup (on the third Saturday), which focuses on picking up litter in various neighborhoods throughout the city.Participants in Keep Downey Beautiful are no strangers to the volumes of litter and garbage that accumulate in a large community. Fittingly, where that garbage ends up was the topic of Keep Downey Beautiful's last committee meeting this past Wednesday. Speaker Rodney King, retired Senior Engineering Geologist for the California Environmental Protection Agency, California Regional Water Quality Control Board, Los Angeles Region, spoke about the types of landfills that have been designated in California. He also presented a thumbnail history of landfill regulation as it has been set in place, mostly by state law enacted in 1984. Mr. King began his presentation with a brief explanation of four types of landfills as they are regulated in California: Class I, for hazardous waste; Class II, for "designated waste" (materials that could lead to hazards at high levels); Class III, the most common, authorized for normal household garbage; and Class IV, for inert building waste, such as concrete and non-recyclable building debris. One of the chief concerns motivating landfill construction and regulation is the possibility of contaminated liquid waste leaching through the landfill into the water supply. Consequently landfills are constructed with a carefully defined system of plastic and natural protective lining. Mr. King shared samples of some of the plastic liners that are used. They ranged in thickness from 40 to 60 millimeters (think ten times thicker than your heavy-duty garbage can liner) and are also alternatively designed with troughs to direct the flow of liquids, as well as with textured surfaces to inhibit shifts in landfill solids, such as in the event of an earthquake. The potential for earthquakes also factors into not only the regulation of existing landfills, but also the selection of landfill sites, including specific designations, such as the statistical possibility of what is described as a "Maximum Probable Earthquake," the biggest earthquake in 100 years as King described it, or "Maximum Credible Earthquake," the biggest earthquake likely to happen, based on seismic history. Further, landfills may not be built near an active fault, meaning a fault line that's moved within the last 11,000 years. (As King humorously pointed out, if the last fault activity were 11,001 years ago, a landfill would be permissible.) Another regulation mandates that landfills may not be located in the area of a 100-year flood plain--again to mitigate the potential for leachates, the legal-technical term for liquid residue that can leach through landfill linings into the water supply. Additional requirements for the financial assurance of landfills were also set in place in the 1990's. These include stipulations for long-term closure and maintenance funds once a landfill has gone out of service. Virtually all modern landfills have legally controlled life spans set in place at the time of their creation. For example, Downey's nearest neighboring landfill, the Puente Hills Landfill, will discontinue service by law in November, 2013. (Puente Hills, incidentally, is the largest landfill in the United States.) The challenge of where to replace Puente Hills' daily 12,000-plus tons of trash has been under consideration for years. As a result, the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County, which owns and operates Puente Hills, purchased over 4,000 acres in 2002--some 200 miles away in Imperial County--as a future alternative for L.A. County waste disposal. Therefore the future of waste management for one to two-thirds of Los Angeles County's landfill necessities lies in long distance landfill disposal through what has been termed "Waste By Rail" (WBR). Inevitably, this transition will result in increased complexity and higher costs. We'll examine WBR in more detail in this column's next installment. But meanwhile! Keep Downey Beautiful continues its work at this Saturday's cleanup (Nov. 17), 12500 Birchdale Avenue in front of Sussman Middle School. So come out and support KDB's long tradition of Keeping Downey Beautiful!

********** Published: November 15, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 31