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Landfill Operators Ignored Restrictions

Landfill operators accepted more than construction debris.

The operators of Hidden Lane Landfill, which is slated for testing to determine whether it is the source of the trichloroethylene (TCE) in 22 wells at Broad Run Farms, repeatedly violated restrictions on what was allowed to be dumped at the site, records show.

TERRANCE WHARTON said Tuesday that the unlawful waste led the county to file suit in 1983 to shut down the landfill. He was director of engineering then, and responsible for all of the county's landfills. He said he found latex and enamel paint cans, tires, and junk cars — including oil, antifreeze and other by-products — in the Hidden Lane Landfill. "A lot of things went in there that should not have," he said. "We didn't know what was going in there." Wharton is now director of Building and Development.

The landfill, which opened in 1971, was supposed to accept construction debris only. It was called a stump dump.

Loudoun County Office of Solid Waste Management documents provide a framework of violations for a landfill that operated for 17 years without a county permit. The owners maintained that the county ordinance requiring a permit was not applicable to them, even after supervisors revised it.

TCE is a chemical used to remove grease from metal parts. Drinking water with small amounts of TCE over long periods of time can cause liver and kidney damage, impaired immune system function and impaired fetal development in pregnant women, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry said.

The generation of leachate, a mixture of water, soil and waste that becomes a contaminated runoff, normally is more toxic in an unregulated sanitary landfill than a stump dump. A sanitary landfill accepts household and restaurant wastes.

The records describe the landfill, adjacent to Broad Run Farms, as "uncontrolled" and "unregulated."

THE STATE and county Health Departments first found two wells contaminated with TCE in 1989 and five more in the next 15 years. Officials waited, however, until this year to investigate whether the problem was widespread.

Testing began two months ago. Residents are questioning why authorities waited so long to alert the rest of the community that the health hazards might be extensive.

"I'd really like to get an answer about that," said Laura Garrett, who lives on Youngs Cliff Road and has a contaminated well. "They were dealing with it on a case by case basis. Was it a matter of the left hand not knowing what the right hand was doing or … a deliberate ignoring of the evidence?"

Garrett, a Broad Run Farms resident for 10 years, said it may be premature to judge whether the landfill was the source, but there is not any source that can be so easily identified. "With all the evidence so far, the county and the landowners were negligent. Somebody has to step up and take responsibility for it."

IN A DEC. 9, 1983 memo, Loudoun's Environmental Health Supervisor Robert Montgomery Jr. wrote county Attorney Ed Finnegan about the long-term problems associated with closing the landfill. He cited underground heat build-up and the possibility of major leachate production in the next several years, "as predicted by Dave Brown, Law Engineers, consultant to the landfill owner, and Black & Veatch, consulting engineers to the county."

"There are other long-term problems that county staff may not even be aware of that could occur, since there are many unknowns regarding this landfill, which operated pretty much uncontrolled for years," Finnegan wrote.

In a Feb. 1, 1985 letter, Finnegan wrote Robert Wickline, director of Solid Waste with the Virginia Department of Health, about the need for a durable cap or cover to keep the rain from penetrating the landfill. One of the biggest enemies of a landfill is moisture. Water mixes with soil and waste and becomes a contaminated runoff.

"Because this landfill was essentially unregulated, and there is no indication of a liner or whether fill matter was placed directly on shale, and because there are no records of what has gone into the landfill, the county engineer recommends that the cap be designed to maintain a impermeability of 1 x 10 -7 cm/sec."

The landfill owners, Philip Smith and Albert Moran, now deceased, were specifically allowed to deposit construction debris, such as concrete, bricks, lumber, rubble, roofing, insulation, electrical wiring and fixing. They also had permission to dump consolidated asphalt, and household appliances.

The state prohibited the owners from dumping automobiles, liquids other than water, sludges and slurries, petroleum products, chemicals, toxic materials, explosives, pesticides, larvicides, garbage, dead animals and radioactive materials. That waste could potentially generate greater toxins if a landfill does not have the proper lining and cap.

Wharton said modern landfills, such as Loudoun's, are wrapped like a cocoon and do not pose the dangers of the past.

GARRETT EXPRESSED incredulity about authorities' prior knowledge of the violations and of the seven wells that tested positive for TCE before this year. "I'm trying to maintain a level head about it, but the more information I get, the harder it is," she said.

Eric DeJonghe, president of the Broad Run Farms Civic Association, said the situation should have been handled differently. "I just want it fixed," he said.

He questioned why no one has tested the landfill since the county Health Department started testing individual wells in March. Health Director Dr. David Goodfriend, said his environmental health staff started "putting pieces together" in January of this year, realizing that the TCE could be more widespread.

Richard Doucette, waste program manager of the Northern Regional Office of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, said the wells on the site have not been tested, because they would not provide accurate groundwater samples for volatile organic compounds. "The review of the site well construction information and their current condition offer little confidence in their ability to give accurate results," he said.

He said the solid waste group lacks funding to collect and analyze groundwater samples. He has been in contact with the Site Assessment Group of the Department of Environmental Quality, which is funded by the Environmental Protection Agency, to see if it has authorization to conduct the tests. "We are trying to determine the best method to get out there and perform a site assessment," he said.

The Groundwater Group of the DEQ's Waste Division has been reviewing the information and will be providing technical assistance for the project. Doucette said the DEQ will be following up with the best way to protect the neighborhood, while dealing with the landfill owners to determine if they are responsible for the contamination.

THIS IS NOT the first time that financial considerations have been connected with the testing. In an April 5, 1983 memo, Montgomery wrote that leachate samples were collected from the landfill on April 1. They were chilled in a Styrofoam cooler and given to Forman for analysis.

Forman, however, said he did not know whether he could actually get the samples tested due to budget limitations. He contacted Hans Muellere.

"I received a call about 9:15 a.m. on April 6, 1983 from Mr. Forman, who indicated his office did not have monies available to perform testing of leachate, that the Water Resources Engineer's Office in Culpepper did not have this money, and that he was not to willing to call the State Water Control Board and ask their assistance in this matter," Montgomery wrote.

"I thanked Mr. Forman for his effort, asked that he dispose of the samples, and that he send us a letter summarizing his reasons for not processing the samples in the near future."

DeJonghe said it appeared that the county had been doing its job, but the state dropped the ball.

DENISE MAZZAN, who has lived on Youngs Cliff Road for 13 years, said the blame rests with the owners, the state Health Department and the companies who did the actual dumping. She placed most of the fault with the latter two. "I talked to Philip Smith three or four times on the phone and I saw him," she said.

Mazzan, who has expressed concern that the TCE could have affected her health, said she has spent about 60 hours researching the landfill's activities. She has had breast cancer and a child with a birth defect.

Smith and Moran originally applied for a zoning permit to build a housing development on the land. The application was turned down, because the acreage was in the flood zone. After the rejection, they obtained permission to fill the site up to the flood plain level. "I don't know how much the owners knew was dumped in there," she said. "To be honest with you, the state Health Department is here to protect the people and the environment. They did not."

She said no one provided consistent monitoring to see what was being put into the landfill. "I blame the Health Department more than the owners and whoever dumped there. They are all responsible."

Records show that Broad Run Farms residents repeatedly complained about the landfill. In an Oct. 21, 1975 letter, Mrs. Joffrion Ginn, president of the civic association, wrote Norman Phillips, director of the state Department of Health. "Please advise us as to the action we can take to ensure that the government enforces its own regulations relating to the environmental protection," she wrote.

An April 24, 1983 letter, written by James Webster, then president of the civic association, opposed granting the landfill a permit. He cited problems with fires, offensive odors, rats, drainage problems, dust and noise. "The landfill operation is a huge trash pile, rising some 60 feet above ground level, less than 100 yards from adjacent housing."

About seven years later, the county sampled soil to see if the landfill was generating methane gas, which could have endangered new homes in Countryside. In a Feb. 26, 1990 letter, Wharton wrote that the landfill was producing methane gas that could be explosive if it accumulated in confined spaces. There also was a potential for lateral migration of the gas.

WHARTON SAID Tuesday that monitoring wells were placed at the bottom of the landfill to determine if methane gas was moving. They also built a trench and installed vents. The found trace amounts of methane gas, which could result from decomposition of anything biodegradable, he said. The monitoring program was eventually discontinued.

The county sued the landfill, and a Circuit Court judge ruled in June 1983 that it had violated Loudoun's zoning ordinance. The judge referred the case to a Commissioner of Chancery to mediate a plan for closure and restoration and a timeline for its completion. Despite the court ruling, the state Department of Health issued a debris landfill permit to the landfill's operator, Elmer Wiser.

Lou Canonico, director of engineering before Wharton, wrote in a Sept. 21, 1981 memo, that the owners appeared to have made honest attempts to address the county's concerns. He said conversations and correspondence with Webster and Montgomery revealed they believed the potential of environmental damage was so great that a shut down was warranted.

He countered that the county needed a debris landfill. He raised the question: If a better site could be found, would it be any easier to deal with than expanding Hidden Lane?

As the landfill neared closure, Montgomery, in a Dec. 9, 1983 memo, wrote that water sampling wells exist, but some were destroyed by construction activities and a fire that burned at least for five months at the site. Groundwater well W-4 was severely altered in attempts to extinguish the fire.

"We don't know whether or not it still serves the purpose that it was intended to serve when installed," he wrote. "Leachate continues to be generated in fairly large quantities."