After three years of public input, Virginia is tightening its landfill regulations.
Last October, the State Waste Management Board voted to require greater setbacks for landfills in the surrounding community, more frequent waste coverage at active landfills, regular capacity surveys, notification of excess gas emissions and additional groundwater monitoring.
Kathryn Perszyk, division director at the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, said in a statement that the changes “strengthen waste management practices to better protect human health and the environment, while increasing certainty for the regulated community.” .
But citizens’ group Virginians for Conservation and Community Rights, an organization that grew out of local opposition to the Green Ridge landfill project in Cumberland County, says the regulations still fail to protect the environment and surrounding communities. , particularly with regard to groundwater contamination. The group is particularly concerned about the continued lack of protections for private wells near landfills.
“We are very disappointed as this has not addressed any of our concerns,” said Victoria Ronnau, VCCR’s chief executive.
DEQ proposed the rule changes in response to a report from former Natural and Historic Resources Secretary Matthew Strickler who called for revisions to how the state handles landfill locations and pollution.
The new bylaw increases setback requirements from 200 to 500 feet between the landfill boundary and any residence, school, daycare, hospital, retirement home or recreational park.
“These changes will create a larger buffer between the waste management boundary and development on properties adjacent to the landfill” and are consistent with requests received from the public and what is in surrounding states, a DEQ memo on the new regulations notes.
Landfills will also be required to carry out periodic topographical surveys, which will provide up-to-date information on their capacity, and cover exposed waste at active sites on a weekly basis.
This latest change follows the DEQ’s observations of “an increase in the number and severity of occurrences of fires, odors, trash blowing” and other landfill impacts, according to the memo.
In June, the Roanoke County Fire and Rescue Department spent approximately two and a half years hours put out a fire at the Smith Gap landfill. Air pollution and odor control issues at the Bristol landfill also sparked a lawsuit from nearby Bristol, Tennessee. The facility stopped accepting waste on September 9 and officials believe it will take $30 million to clean.
In addition, landfills will be required to notify occupants of structures within 500 feet of any excessive levels of methanewhich is a by-product of decomposition, and to monitor groundwater for contaminants, including perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or SPFAwhich are colloquially known as “forever chemicals”.
Groundwater monitoring regulations do not specify maximum contaminant levels for PFAS in groundwater near landfills. A Virginia task force has developed recommendations for contaminant levels under the 2020 legislation, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently launched proposals to limit PFAS pollution.
This is where the regulations fall short, according to Ronnau and Keith Buch, a retired environmental engineer who has advocated for stricter landfill rules.
While Virginia requires any landfill within a certain range of a public water system to use a double liner, which can prevent contaminant leakage, the state has no such requirement for nearby landfills. of private wells, Buch said.
Private wells are used in a “majority” of counties in the state, Buch said, and primarily by rural residents, such as those who would live near the Green Ridge site.
“There is a huge group of individuals, owners who could be negatively affected by a landfill or other industrial activity,” Buch said.
In its memo on the new regulations, DEQ said the agency is waiting for the state to set maximum levels of contaminants. The rules “may be amended in the future if necessary,” depending on those actions, writes DEQ.
“A lack of value”
The potential damage around the Green Ridge site is just one example of the loopholes in Virginia’s landfill regulations, Ronnau said. Pine Grove School, a century-old school in Rosenwald founded to educate black children during segregation, is at risk in Cumberland, she added.
“A landfill would both destroy the environmental ecosystem and, equally important, it would destroy the historic ecosystem,” said Muriel Branch, 79, who attended the school.
The proposal includes rerouting part of Pine Grove Road, which leads to the school.
“It makes me very angry that you’re considering upsetting and rerouting a historic road so that…your trucks can have easier access to the landfill,” Branch said. “It just shows a lack of value that Green Ridge has placed on our historically predominantly black community.”
Community members hope to use the school, which needs to be stabilized, as a cultural center, museum and place for research on the surrounding African-American community. The Agee Miller Mayo Dungy Group, named after four descendants of the school, recently won a $290,000 grant from the National Park Service for work on the building.
Green Ridge said its plans will not impact the school and its immediate surroundings.
“We intend to comply with all rules and regulations,” said company spokesman Jay Smith. The road change will occur on their property and “does not block access to Pine Grove,” he noted.
green crest would not be subject to the new regulations because it submitted its application for a new solid waste landfill before the effective date of the new rules, DEQ spokesman Aaron Proctor said in a statement. e-mail.
Still, “it appears the proposed landfill meets the revised requirements,” Proctor added.
Proctor was unable to immediately say how the regulations might impact the Bristol Landfill, Virginia.
It’s also unclear when the Green Ridge site could become operational, as its permit is currently under review by the DEQ and the Army Corps of Engineers.
The landfill is expected to bring Cumberland between $1.4 and $2.8 million in revenue each year over the project’s approximately 30-year lifespan. Thirty-five jobs, ranging from commercial drivers to laborers, with salaries that could exceed $60,000, will also be created, Smith said.
Get morning headlines delivered to your inbox