State environmental regulators hope to complete an evaluation by next fall to determine just how safe Bountiful's sanitary landfill is and whether or not it will be placed on the nation's Superfund cleanup list.
Kent Gray, who heads the state's Superfund study program, said the state wants to determine what kind of danger contaminants found seeping from the landfill, formerly called Bay Area Ref-use Disposal Landfill, pose to health and the environment. If after the state study, the landfill site rates high on an Environmental Protection Agency scorecard, it could be considered for placement on the federal Superfund cleanup list in 1990."It all depends if it scores high enough. The factors we consider in the Superfund process are `Do we have contaminants?' - the answer to that is already yes - `Are there pathways or routes to human and environmental exposure?' and `What are the receptor populations through water supplies?' " Gray said.
Meanwhile, Bountiful city officials said that the West Bountiful landfill poses no danger to human health and toxic chemicals seeping from buried garbage at the dump aren't absorbed into nearby groundwater, only into the Great Salt Lake. They said building a slurry wall between the landfill and the lake, along with other measures, could almost completely stop the chemical flows. They plan to keep the landfill open for another 20 to 30 years by stacking garbage on the surface rather than burying it.
"There is virtually no possibility that groundwater contamination from the landfill, even if it were leaking from the landfill at significant rates, could create a hazard to human health," City Manager Tom Hardy said.
James M. Montgomery Consulting Engineers Inc. were hired by the city and reported groundwater analyzed from test wells in and around the landfill show levels of the toxic substances lead, selenium, benzene and vinyl chloride that are above those allowed by federal drinking water standards. The standards will likely be used in the EPA assessment of the site.
"Vinyl chloride and benzene are human carcinogens (cancer causing), and their presence in detectable concentrations causes concern for regulators and the general public," the Montgomery report said.
Hardy said the use of federal drinking water standards to measure leaching from the landfill is unrealistic because nobody lives near the site or gets drinking water from nearby groundwater or from the Great Salt Lake. At this point the only risks may be to plants and wildlife in nearby wetlands.
The leaking chemicals leave the landfill at about three gallons a minute. Hardy said that would be equal to a small drip every 10 minutes from each perimeter foot of the landfill. That rate of discharge from the 150-acre site is much less than engineers expected and bodes well for Bountiful's attempt to clean up the site, Hardy said.
Gray said he agrees with the assessment that the landfill doesn't currently pose any human health risks, but he said the state must take a broader view in its evaluation because of future population growth in the area and potential use of what Hardy said is almost unusable brackish ground water located there.
"Actually, we are a desert state and we might have to use this water in the future. As far as a regulatory agency is concerned we don't know what we'll be facing in the future. We might eventually have technology to use brackish water," Gray said.
Gray wants to check Montgomery's findings that a clay liner and unique water pressure is keeping contaminants out of groundwater below and upstream of the landfill site.
The landfill has become a sensitive issue for the Bountiful City Council, which is trying to conclude negotiations with the entities that formerly owned the 25-year-old landfill. Attorneys for Bountiful, Davis County, West Bountiful, Woods Cross, Farmington, North Salt Lake and Centerville are trying to come to an agreement that will allow the release of a $1.6 million cleanup fund that Bountiful plans to spend on correcting the chemical seepage problem.
No formal agreement has been reached on whether or not the former owners, which stopped using the landfill and now haul garbage to the Layton burn plant, will have liability for future environmental regulation violations at the site.