Atlanta's Old Landfills Leaking
The grassy hill behind a row of two-story, cottage-style homes looks like the perfect spot for a family picnic or a game of Frisbee with a pet dog.
But just beneath the surface are the remnants of an old municipal landfill, and decomposition of the buried trash is causing leaks of toxins and flammable gases at unsafe levels, according to the state Environmental Protection Division.
Decomposing garbage creates methane gas, and when methane makes up 5 percent of the air in a given area, an explosion can occur. Methane concentrations were detected over that limit at the above mentioned landfill, off East Confederate Avenue in Boulevard Heights, about a half-mile southeast of Grant Park.
Groundwater in the area also is contaminated at levels that exceed state limits, though Christy Kehn-Lewis, a geologist with EPD's Solid Waste Management Program, says the contaminated water hasn't infiltrated residents' drinking water.
"We don't see that there's a threat to human health at this point," she says.
According to Kehn-Lewis, three other landfills — Cascade Road landfill, in southwest Atlanta; Gun Club Road landfill, between Hollywood Road and Perry Boulevard in northwest Atlanta; and Key Road landfill, about two miles south of East Atlanta Village — also are leaking methane and contaminated water. All four of the landfills were operated by the city's Public Works Department and are now closed.
The city of Atlanta spent $25 million to cover the four landfills with dirt and grass and spends $269,000 annually to monitor runoff and gas emissions from the sites. Those emissions are reported to EPD, which also inspects the landfills twice a year.
EPD documents show the city has been notified of the leaks at its closed landfills at least 10 times since February 2001, but minimal or no action was taken.
Public Works Commissioner David Scott now has agreed that the city pay a $50,000 fine and install methane collectors and flares at the landfills to catch and burn the gas safely.
"We are trying to get [city officials] to finish these extraction systems, and it's something that's taken a while to get resolved," says Jeff Cown, manager of the EPD Solid Waste Management Program. "They had just gotten behind."
Pamela Wilson, a spokeswoman for the Public Works Department, says contractors already have been hired to clean up the landfills.
Kehn-Lewis says the cleanup already has been effective at two of the sites.
"Contamination levels at Key Road and Cascade have dropped, so those probably won't take long to clean up," she says.
She adds that city officials are still evaluating the landfill off Confederate Avenue. "They are still trying to figure out how bad and how far [the contamination spread]."
Learn more: To view other EPD environmental enforcements, visit www.gaepd.org/Documents/enforcement.html.