Proactive on PFAS

Atlanta landfill voluntarily begins tests

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz A compactor truck drives back and forth over trash at the Montmorency-Oscoda-Alpena landfill in Atlanta last week. The landfill voluntarily began testing for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS, last year, and is taking other steps to be environmentally responsible.

ATLANTA — The Montmorency-Oscoda-Alpena Solid Waste Authority is ahead of the curve on environmental safety as officials there decided to begin testing for PFAS on its own, before any state mandate was issued.

The emergence of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS, at military bases and on private property is an ongoing issue around Michigan.

But there are other entities at risk of contamination that are just now beginning to be addressed: landfills.

With the amount of refuse that is deposited into landfills, it is almost certain the chemicals — there are more than 5,000 types of PFAS, used in many consumer and industrial products — could become an issue, if proper monitoring and testing aren’t done.

“When PFAS contamination first started getting attention in Michigan a couple years ago, the operations manager and I went to a (Michigan Department of Environmental Quality) conference in Lansing to learn more about this new concern,” Connie Gerrie, administrator of the landfill in Atlanta, said. “Landfills were an obvious choice for testing, because a lot of products that are found to include PFAS are disposed of at them. Knowing this, the MOA was proactive by volunteering to include PFAS testing in our monitoring program, which has already been implemented for years.”

According to Alpena County Commissioner Bill Peterson, who represents the county on the MOA board, the first test was done in September. He said the results came back showing the four samples were well below the 70 parts per trillion health advisory established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, as well as below the state’s ground clean-up criteria. Testing for PFAS will be done four times a year moving forward.

Peterson said commissioners from all three counties served by the landfill believed being proactive on the PFAS issue was prudent.

“We started doing it even before the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy even asked us to do it,” Peterson said, referring to the new name for the former Department of Environmental Quality. “PFAS is going to be there, because everything gets dumped into the landfill, and there are so many things that have it in it.”

There’s less threat of the chemicals seeping into the ground, water table, or wells at or near landfills with lined cells, according to a state-commissioned study by GEI Consultants.

A cell is basically a large pit where trash is deposited and then covered nightly. The liner works like a liner in a swimming pool, which helps prevent leaks into the ground.

Cells at landfills produce leachate, which is water contaminated by being mixed with the trash. It’s normally hauled away to a treatment plant and discharged from there.

“Our cells are self-contained, so nothing is supposed to leak into the ground,” Peterson said. “Still, we are testing wells quarterly for pollutants all around the property and out in the state land. All we did is add PFAS to it.”

Scott Dean, spokesman for DEGLE, said 32 landfills in the state were tested for PFAS and, although there were a few that need to take corrective action, most tested below the minimum standard. He said the state will continue to work with landfill operators to monitor and clean contamination.

“What we learned is that it does exist, but it isn’t a major problem in the leachate right now,” Dean said. “We know it can become an issue and, if it does, we will be taking action.”

State Rep. Sue Allor, R- Wolverine, has been on the front line in the state’s fight against PFAS. She said landfills are a focus of the state and there is an effort to find and limit exposure of the chemical.

She also complimented MOA for its aggressive approach.

“We are seeing that more people are conscious of PFAS and becoming more educated of the possible impacts that it has,” Allor said. “I’m happy people are being proactive and taking steps on their own to help address the issue.”

One of the biggest challenges for any landfill is the debris that is blown out of the cells by high winds. Plastic and paper bags can often be seen hundreds of yards from the primary dump site, but the state requires the landfill to address that, as best as possible.

Peterson said the MOA has partnered with local schools to help with the clean-up.

“We have high school kids come in and help clean up, as part of their community volunteer requirements,” he said. “The landfill will also donate money to the schools as our way of giving back.”

Steve Schulwitz can be reached at 989-358-5689 at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ss_alpenanews.com.


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