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Polluted landfill outlook hopeful

Jeremy Heiman

Members of the public are being asked to comment on a plan to control and diminish contamination of the ground water under the Pitkin County Landfill.

Vinyl chloride, which can cause cancer in humans, was discovered in ground water monitoring wells at the landfill in 1997. But to the present, the underground contamination has not flowed beyond the boundaries of the landfill.

Miles Stotts, solid waste manager for Pitkin County, said vinyl chloride is formed when organic solvents such as trichloroethene (TCE) and perchlorethene (PCE) break down. PCE, also called “perc,” is used for dry cleaning. TCE was commonly used as a degreaser and was a component of furniture strippers, carburetor cleaners and paints, though individual sources can’t be pinpointed.

“To say this is from a particular shop is impossible,” Stotts said.

Stotts said the contaminants probably date from the 1960s and early 1970s, when dumping such chemicals in landfills was permitted. The Pitkin County Landfill opened in 1964.

Comments on the plan will be accepted by the Colorado Department of Health and Environment until Nov. 17. A report that evaluates the corrective measures proposed by Pitkin County was released Tuesday by the Colorado Department of Public Health. The department is optimistic.

“Their proposed remedies, we hope, will solve any continued problem out there,” said Roger Doak, geologist for the department of health.

In the plan, which has already been implemented, one measure now in place calls for loads arriving at the dump to be inspected randomly for further contaminants.

Most of the corrective measures are intended to minimize the amount of water that is allowed to infiltrate into the landfill and then make its way into the ground water, Stotts said. Workers are applying a final cover of dirt to each area of the landfill as soon as it is filled to a predetermined level. Four acres of the landfill were capped off last year, he said.

Workers are regrading areas previously covered to eliminate all areas where rainwater or snowmelt could pool. And they are contouring the land at the edges of the landfill to divert runoff from adjacent land that previously crossed the landfill, Stotts said.

Keeping water out of the landfill is expected to slow the growth of the underground plume of contamination and, in time, reduce its size.

As part of the corrective measures, the county is also checking the monitoring wells more frequently to keep an eye on the size of the pool of contaminated water. Most of the wells on the landfill site are now checked four times a year, Stotts said, and the one at the property boundary is checked eight times annually. Samples are analyzed at a laboratory to detect the presence of chemical contaminants.

Doak said if the contamination reaches the property boundary, Pitkin County would be expected to take aggressive action to make certain the water was not able to continue down the grade.

If the current corrective measures don’t work, Stotts said, a “pump and treat” system would have to be put in place to purify the ground water. The cost of such a system is expected to be around $200,000. If other chemical contaminants are found, he said, the pump and treat system could initially cost as much as $500,000. Additional maintenance could add up to $50,000 annually.

“Right now, it’s completely contained on site, and it doesn’t look like those other options are going to be necessary,” Stotts said.

Citizens can see a full copy of the report, “Assessment of Corrective Measures at the Pitkin County Solid Waste Center,” at the Pitkin County Public Library, 120 N. Mill St. in Aspen.

For more information, contact Miles Stotts, 379-8432, or Roger Doak, 888-569-1831, or visit the health department Web site, http://www.cdphe.state.co.us/hm/.

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Posted:Thursday, October 19, 2000


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