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Votes

Questioning the Clean-up Process

Residents ask DEQ officials how dangerous contamination is near the Rainwater Landfill.

Ellen Schumacher wants the Rainwater Landfill to come clean.

The only one of 15 Lorton area residents to ask a formal question, Schumacher opened and closed the 10-minute-long public hearing portion of a meeting at the Lorton Library held by members of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, asking why, in her eyes, “nothing has been done” to stop pollution of the air and ground water near the landfill.

“What methods have been used to make sure the problem is not getting worse?” she asked. “Why isn’t this landfill regulated and monitored like other landfills? Why doesn’t the state look to see what happens when garbage leaks out of the landfill?”

The public hearing, which was originally only advertised in a Manassas newspaper, was part of an approval process for the landfill, owned and operated by Ray Rainwater. Residents had 30 days to make comments about the permit, which would approve a new correction action program for reducing the amount of contamination in the ground water around the landfill. Currently, the plan is to allow for “natural attenuation,” which means that naturally-occurring decomposition of chloroform, vinyl chloride, tetrachloroethene, trichloroethene and beryllium will be the method used to reduce the presence of the chemicals in the ground water.

Schumacher said she’s concerned for the town homes built in the Lorton Station neighborhood that backs up to the landfill.

“Why weren’t these people warned that their homes were built in a dangerous area?” she asked. “Any amount of contamination is too much. We don’t know what the long term effects might be.”

Larry Syverson and Richard Doucette, from the Richmond and Woodbridge offices of the Department of Environmental Quality promised to send Schumacher a written response within six weeks. They then offered to answer what questions they could from other residents, explaining that no written responses would be given.

THE RAINWATER LANDFILL has applied for a permit that would officially adopt natural attenuation as its process for reducing the contaminates to a level below what is considered an acceptable rate, Syverson explained to one resident. “Quite a few landfills use this as their mode of remediation. There is a suite of parameters that the facility will use to monitor the ground water, and from the results of those parameters, we can tell if the level of contamination is increasing, reducing or staying the same,” he said.

A series of wells have been in place for monitoring runoff from the landfill, Syverson said, which are tested every six months. A receptor or sentinel well was drilled in 2003 and, if the permit is approved, will be tested to see if the contamination has moved further away from the main landfill.

The well has not been tested for contamination since it was created, but if higher than accepted levels of contamination are found, “we would have to drill another well within 90 days” to see how far it has spread, Syverson said.

Any migration of the contamination in the ground water is “slow, if at all,” he said.

SOME RESIDENTS questioned the production of methane gas at what is billed as a CDD — construction and demolition debris landfill. The landfill is only allowed to receive inorganic material like drywall, concrete and other building supplies. Methane is produced when organic materials decay.

“Sticking pipes into the ground and piping the gas into the air isn’t solving the problem,” Schumacher said.

A test of the piping system currently in place at the Rainwater Landfill found “no exceedences” in the regulated amount of methane from the landfill in January, Doucette said. “All landfills create methane from the wood in the fill,” he said.

Since July, the site has been using a set of perforated pipes that pump out any methane produced inside the landfill, Doucette said.

Residents became audibly surprised when Syverson said that concerns about toxins near the landfill were first noticed by the DEQ in the 1990s, but added that it has been monitored by the DEQ for the past several years.

“It can take between 15 and 20 years for a problem like this to correct,” he said. “That’s considered an acceptable time period.”

When asked if it would be quicker to use a more aggressive method to remediate the ground water, Syverson said it would take “about the same amount of time” as the more passive approach the Rainwater Landfill has applied to use.

“Why did it take until 2006 to come up with the remediation plan?” asked Pam Gressly, a resident on Old Colchester Road near the landfill.

“There were discussions going back and forth over what would be appropriate for the facility,” Syverson said. State regulations that establish standards for the maintenance of landfills do not set a specific time plan for remediation plans to be made, he said.

SOME PEOPLE who live on Old Colchester Road receive their drinking water from underground wells, Schumacher said. She asked why these residents, many of whom may be on fixed incomes and are “scared to death,” should be asked to pay to have their wells tested for contamination.

“They didn’t create the problem, why should they have to pay for it,” she asked.

Doucette said testing could be completed by the Department of Health, but added that the meeting was not a place to “assign who has to fix it.”

At the end of the meeting, Syverson reassured the residents that if the DEQ felt there was a serious threat to anyone’s health, it would mandate a more aggressive and active method of remediation.

“We will sample certain parameters quarterly for the first two years of the program, and then semi-annually,” he said. If at any point during that time levels of contamination are shown to be increasing, the site will be re-evaluated and an alternate course of action may be required.

FOLLOWING THE MEETING, residents had mixed thoughts on the effectiveness of the night.

“It went better than a meeting we had a year ago,” said resident Joe Chudzik. “It was more open and informative.”

Being able to discuss the problem and possible solutions was a “step toward resolving the issue,” said Chudzik. “Some people aren’t satisfied with what they heard, they’re concerned the ground water will be contaminated. Some people have a right to be concerned,” he said.

“I think a lot of the residents at the meeting left with more questions than they had answers to,” said Old Colchester Road resident Charles Keeney. “Most of us went into the meeting not sure of what was going to be presented.”

Keeney’s house is contiguous to some property owned by Ray Rainwater that is not used for the landfill. “The ground water that flows under the landfill flows toward our property,” he said.

While he hasn’t had concerns about his own water being contaminated yet, he does receive water from an underground well.

“It cuts right to the very heart of our lives,” Keeney said. “As a user, if it is contaminated, you don’t want any carcinogens in there or any harmful bacteria. We have a vested interest in the quality of water” coming from the landfill, he said.

His main concern after the meeting was that some of his neighbors may not have realized that “passive correction action is nothing,” he said. “It distills down to nothing. I though it would at least involve drilling holes or introducing microbes. Some of these terms can be deceiving,” he said.

RESIDENTS WHO WISH to make comments on the proposed permit will have until March 16 to do so, Doucette said. At that point, Syverson will respond to the written or formally asked concerns and then pass the information on to David K. Paylor, the DEQ director. His signature will approve the permit.

“Mr. Rainwater will also have an opportunity to comment on what he feels” regarding public concerns over the landfill, Doucette said. A final approval is expected on or following April 15, he said, 30 days after the close of the public comment period.

He understands the residents concerns and frustrations with the seemingly slow process of addressing and correcting the contamination. “Some local delegates have tried to enact legislation to change the DEQ process to get us more involved in changing the regulations,” he said. “Our mission is to protect the health of the environment. We are actively involved [in monitoring the landfill’s operations], but we’re not sure how it got this far.”