Fairplay landfill leeching shows contrast in monitoring between active, closed facilities
March 8, 2017
A decommissioned landfill just outside of Fairplay in neighboring Park County has been found to be leeching chemicals into the groundwater, prompting state regulators to direct the county to conduct more thorough water monitoring around the site.
The Bureau of Land Management, which owns the landfill property but leases it to the county, sent letters to residents in the area in December informing them that the toxic chemical dioxane was found in the nearby groundwater.
The county soon tested more than a dozen private wells in the area, and so far, only one has contained dioxane.
"I was in shock, like, 'You've got to be kidding me,'" said the resident whose well tested positive and who asked not to be named in this article. "It's all very uncertain. There are health concerns but also property values to think about."
“Some of these smaller landfills in the state — and I’m not necessarily talking about Fairplay — when they close, their monitoring plans are very vague, and they weren’t always structured properly.”Aaron ByrneSolid waste director at Summit County Resource Allocation Park
The resident added that he didn't even know his neighborhood was near a decommissioned landfill until he received the letter from the BLM.
So far, contamination levels have been low, but county is providing drinking water to the residence as a short-term solution.
There is no federally mandated safe level for dioxane, a contaminant that was only found to be dangerous relatively recently. The tested levels in Fairplay, however, exceeded state standards for groundwater.
Regulators have asked Park County to submit a new monitoring plan by the end of the month to help gauge the extent of the contamination and its likelihood of spreading further.
Two different county officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Officials with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and Bureau of Land Management said that monitoring of test wells had been mothballed for years but was re-invigorated in 2014 in preparation for a possible transfer of the land to the county.
One aspect of the leeching problem, federal and state officials said, was that groundwater protections weren't as robust in 1993, when the landfill was shut down.
Additionally, when the landfill was operational, standards for what materials were dumped — and how — were less stringent than today.
Summit County has its own legacy of unscrupulous waste disposal, where garbage was dumped indiscriminately with little regard for runoff or groundwater impacts.
A major difference, however, is that the site of Summit's original dump was converted into the county's current landfill: the Summit County Resource Allocation Park. That means that runoff catchment and liner systems were retroactively installed, said SCRAP solid waste director Aaron Byrne.
Equally important, he said, is the fact that since the "old landfill" is now a part of the functioning SCRAP facility, it has been folded into strict monitoring regulations imposed by a host of agencies.
"Some of these smaller landfills in the state — and I'm not necessarily talking about Fairplay — when they close, their monitoring plans are very vague, and they weren't always structured properly," Byrne said.
When SCRAP does eventually close, on the other hand, it will be subject to a 30-year monitoring plan that includes continued testing of the 23 wells currently in place across the facility.
Those wells, Byrne said, are being tested quarterly according to a 180-page monitoring plan, and the results are sent over to the state.
The next round of tests, comparing water quality both above and below the landfill site, is scheduled for next week, Byrne said.
The geology of the SCRAP site — where groundwater is as low as 10 feet below the surface — makes that all the more important. It's also why the whole site is lined with a multi-layer, impermeable liner designed to prevent leeching.
"Groundwater is one of our biggest concerns, and we focus on it because it's important to us to make sure it isn't being affected," Byrne said.