SUSSEX COUNTY, VIRGINIA – As Atlantic Waste Disposal and Waste Management Corporation prepare to handle the recent emergency consent order issued by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality against the Sussex County Landfill in Waverly, citing “ongoing noncompliance,” newly uncovered documents by The Sussex-Surry Dispatch reveal the facility was hit with over $30,000 in fines for violations of the Virginia Waste Management Act & the State Water Control Law in 2015.
Documents show that the landfill, which has been permitted to operate since December 29, 1993, has been dealing with a “gas management issue” since 2014 and, during that year, DEQ reported the landfill had also began experiencing “elevated temperatures in gas extraction wells as a result of an exothermic reaction within the waste mass.”
During a Sussex County Board of Supervisors meeting in January, Waste Management Area Engineering Manager John Dottellis and Atlantic Waste Disposal Senior District Manager Jason Williams reported that they have a team of people working to determine a cause of the increased temperates but have yet to find its source.
In the DEQ emergency consent order signed and dated February 5, the department explains complaints of increased odor from Sussex and neighboring Prince George residents began streaming into their offices shortly after reports of elevated temperatures in the waste mass. In addition, those increased temperatures were causing leachate, or contaminated landfill water, to be produced at an accelerated rate.
That leachate was the source of the facility’s first violation in 2015, according to state documents. On March 10, 2015, there was a “significant release of Leachate” off from the site’s lined disposal area into nearby wetlands, which resulted in two notices of violation being filed on April 1-2 of last year.
In that incident, leachate from a seep entered a stormwater drain channel and flowed into a culvert pipe, leaving the facility and eventually reaching the woods near Pigeon Swamp, reaching a flowing channel. According to the state, even though a vactruck was present and was working to remove the leachate, the liquid flowed past the truck and continued into a fenced-off area, which DEQ says “staff did not have access at the time to get beyond the fence.”
Virginia Code Section 20.81-210(F) requires owners to take immediate steps necessary to protect public health and safety when it comes to dealing with a leachate seep, including controlling and minimizing or eliminating it, and properly disposing of any leachate that reach beyond the lined area permitted for waste disposal.
In state documents, the leachate that spilled into Pigeon Swamp in March of 2015 was observed by inspectors as carrying “a strong odor” and the water “appeared cloudy and brown with a minor sheen, bubbles, and foam.”
As part of the facility’s consent order with DEQ in connection with the violation, The Virginia Waste Management Board required Atlantic Waste Disposal to pay a civil charge of $26,000 to the state while addressing the ongoing leachate issue. In addition, the State Water Control Board took enforcement action as well, citing the company $8,450.
Toward the end of the year, the landfill was issued another notice of violation for a leachate seep that flowed from a culvert pipe into nearby forested wetlands for approximately 600 feet, impacting 3.4 acres of wetlands. Within that December 2015 notice, the facility was also cited for sinkholes on the waste mass itself, which were observed to be emitting gas and producing strong odor.
State law requires a facility to “provide 24 hour notification and five-day written follow up” to DEQ about the existence of sinkholes.
Due to the increasing leachate production and significant spill incident in March of 2015, Atlantic Waste Disposal submitted a permit modification to DEQ in June of 2015, which allowed for the construction of a “temporary Leachate storage impoundment.” Since that time, the facility has submitted six more temporary authorization requests, bringing the total number of leachate storage lagoons to seven, “with a maximum design capacity of 57,617,148 gallons,” state documents detail.
The construction of these lagoons delayed the process of creating a synthetic cap over a portion of the landfill that would mitigate the odor issues at the landfill, company officials confirm. During their January appearance before the Sussex Board of Supervisors, officials said they are working on a 62-acre cap, which a portion of should be completed in June of this year, while the entire project is scheduled to finish in December.
Waverly District Supervisor A.G. Futrell remarked that, during previous conversations with Williams, the company’s leachate transport tankers had stopped heading west on U.S. Route 460 and began traveling eastbound toward Hampton Roads instead.
Williams did not expand upon the supervisor’s comment but, in documents from DEQ, the agency reports in October of 2015, the industrial pre-treatment facility the landfill was using was unable to process leachate for discharge.
DEQ also reports that the Sussex County Landfill generates “approximately 9 million gallons of leachate per month,” which averages out to nearly 300,000 gallons per day.
Those number echo figures provided by Williams at January’s meeting, where he reported that 6,200 gallons of leachate are taken from the facility on 55 trucks per day, totaling approximately 341,000 gallons per day and around 10.2 million gallons in a 30-day period.
Despite the lagoons on site, DEQ officials say there is “An imminent risk of overflow and discharge of leachate at the Atlantic Landfill facility.”
In an effort to mitigate that risk, the Department of Environmental Quality and Waste Management have entered into an emergency order by consent, allowing the company to utilize the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission treatment plant in Newark, New Jersey, as a facility to manage the leachate.
The leachate is transported from the Sussex County Landfill to a double-hulled barge in Hampton Roads, where it is then taken to Passaic Valley’s treatment facility in Newark Bay.
Construction of the on-site leachate treatment plant, which is the landfill’s long-term leachate treatment solution, is expected to be completed in 2017 but, during January’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Williams said that it would take some time for the facility to reach full treatment capacity.
When asked about if their permit would allow for the importing of leachate from other facilities, Williams said that while their state permit does afford them the ability to do so, those plans are currently not in the facility’s future.