|”Time Bomb” – Coastal Landfill |
The day has finally come. Solenas is well aware that she has to leave the place she has called “home” for decades. Her house is located on the edge of the Rumney Wetland Reserve north of Boston, close to the Atlantic Ocean. In recent years, due to frequent catastrophic weather, tides and large waves have washed over her house from time to time. Solenas knew that one day, rough seas would force her to leave her home.
From Solenas’s house, across the Rumney Wetland Reserve, you can see a landfill of the American waste transfer giant, Wheelabrator. It is responsible for burning all garbage collected in Saugus Township and surrounding communities. Day after day, year after year, the ash from waste incineration piles up higher and higher, and so does the sea level. Solenas knew that the sea would one day not only swallow her house, but also the 500,000-ton, 140-acre “garbage kingdom” that would disrupt her decades of peaceful life. The wetlands she loves will be covered in toxic and hazardous waste, and she will have to move inland.
“This landfill should have been closed 25 years ago,” Solenas said indignantly, “but in November 2020, it received another five-year temporary license. It burns 100,000 tons of waste a year. , 500,000 tons in five years.”
Wheelabrator has no plans for how to remove or divert the mountain of waste it creates in the future. The Conservation Law Foundation, based in New England, USA, had previously fought unsuccessfully to extend the operating permit of the Wheelabrator Landfill. And even if the incinerators here are shut down, the huge landfill will continue to exist and eventually be swallowed up by rising seas.
Important habitats for fish, birds and other terrestrial wildlife will be destroyed as mountains of toxic and hazardous waste begin to contaminate wetlands near Solenas’ home. In fact, due to the huge waves brought by the hurricane, landfills are now leaking from time to time, and many of the incinerated garbage ash contains the highly harmful chemical dioxin. Warming climate, rising sea levels, acidification of the oceans, collapse of the marine food chain… These are all putting the oceans under enormous pressure. The garbage pollution in the ocean is already very serious. If such a garbage mountain is added, what will it look like?
In the United States, situations like the Wheelabrator Landfill and its adjoining Rumney Wetland Reserve are not unique. “There are about 100,000 landfills in the United States, and more than half of them are not far from the coast, because these places are low-lying and prone to flooding, and are not suitable for production or living places.” Professor at the University of Richmond Law School in Virginia, USA Noah Sachs said, “When
the sea rises, industrial waste and domestic waste in landfills will be washed into the sea.” In addition to investigating rising sea levels, a joint effort by several universities has also monitored more than 10,000 landfill sites near coastlines across the UK. “After years of observation and research, we have found that parts of the landfills are currently flooded with seawater. They are being carried by surging waves, which are washed into the seawater with lead, asbestos and other toxic chemicals.” Participated in this Ivan Haigh, professor of oceanography at the University of Southampton, said the study.
Also in 2019, several EPA researchers surveyed a landfill in Norfolk, Virginia. At the time, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted that in a worst-case scenario, global sea levels would rise by four feet by 2100. EPA researchers point out that based on this projection, Norfolk’s landfill will remain above sea level by then. But more frequent heavy precipitation, hurricanes, storm surges and flooding can cause repeated damage to municipal infrastructure, including waste management. Like other coastal cities, some of Norfolk’s large landfills have trenches that extend to the water table. These underground trenches are fragile and vulnerable to damage. If seawater intrudes into the aquifer of an underground trench, displacing the fresh water in the current aquifer, it could corrode the clay lining of the trench, causing the contents to float and seep out of the ground.
| Disposal of garbage mountain was “kicked” |
The three EPA experts involved in the study agreed that the threat posed by rising sea levels to landfills has been largely ignored. One of those experts, Susan Julius, said a systematic study of U.S. coastal landfills is urgent. But in the U.S., just figuring out where all the landfills are located along the coast and assessing it is very difficult, because doing such a survey requires a lot of money. Even the term “climate change” was taboo at the EPA and other government agencies under former President Trump. Although it is possible to revisit this topic now, many projects are difficult to move forward due to the huge differences between the two parties.
Wheelabrator’s landfill in Saugus Township is adjacent to the Rumney Wetland Reserve, which has been a “risk environment area” since 1989.
Aside from the bipartisan political divide, another factor contributing to the clutter of landfills along the U.S. coast is that landfills are largely governed by states, and the EPA doesn’t even have a complete list.
Since the 1970s, the US government has begun to pay attention to the harm of hazardous waste to the environment. In 1976, the U.S. Congress passed the Resource Conservation and Restoration Act, which provides for federal authority to grant industrial and municipal landfills the power to dispose of hazardous waste. However, under the framework of the Act, landfill management is delegated to state and local governments. In 1997, the U.S. government clearly stipulated that state and local governments are fully responsible for the operation and management of landfills.
By the 1980s, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and many state environmental protection departments began to require that new local landfills must be lined with clay, plastic and other liners to prevent harmful waste from contaminating the soil. Prior to this, most municipal landfills did not have linings on the surface, which also meant that there was no barrier between the surface and the waste, and the soil was highly susceptible to contamination.
A researcher at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom once said: “This problem is deeply rooted. As sea levels rise, the degree of erosion of seawater continues to deepen, and many early-built landfills have a large amount of refractory plastic waste that is involved in seawater. And it will pollute the oceans further.”
And, hard-to-degrade plastic waste is just one of the nuisances, and the first landfills that were built took in a lot of untreated toxic waste. For example, the Middlesex County Landfill in New Jersey, USA, was built in the early 1940s and closed in 1974. The landfill was receiving a lot of solid waste from other parts of New Jersey at the time, including pitchblende used in the Manhattan Project, the U.S. plan to use nuclear fission reactions to develop an atomic bomb during World War II. In 1986, the U.S. Department of Energy issued a report stating that the decontamination of pitchblende at the Middlesex County landfill had been completed, but in 2008 radium and uranium contamination was found here.
Radioactive waste can cause substantial damage to the surrounding environment in a short period of time, making coastal landfills a ticking time bomb that threatens the surrounding ecosystem at any time. A recent commentary published by the US “Capitol Hill” pointed out that in addition to being very important to all the animals and plants that live here, wetlands also have a very important carbon sink function, that is, through a large number of plants absorbing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, thereby Reduce the concentration of greenhouse gases. For example, wetlands located around the Chesapeake Bay in the central east coast of the United States absorb more than 2.2 million tons of carbon dioxide annually. “If wetland ecosystems are damaged and degraded, their ability to absorb and store carbon dioxide may be reduced,” warned Rodrigo Vargas, a professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences at the University of Delaware, the author of the review article. Even disappear, the result is a large amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are released into the air, increasing global warming.”
Mount Trashmore, a municipal park converted from the Virginia Beach landfill, sits just 12 feet above sea level.
Harold Wanless, a professor of geology at the University of Miami and an expert on rising sea levels, said the problem of coastal landfills has been unresolved for systemic reasons. “A lot of people don’t think the situation is grim because they think that sea level rise will be limited to a few feet over the next century. However, the reality is much worse than they think. Also, at the political level, governance Landfills are the responsibility of local governments. Often, local governments choose to delay and ‘kick the ball’ on thorny issues like this. Unless seawater has been dumped into the landfill, they won’t think about raising taxes. Waiting for measures to solve this problem,” Wanless said. However, it will be too late to regret 20 years from now, when the sea actually floods the landfills, and then the real estate that local governments rely on to collect taxes will depreciate dramatically and tax revenue will drop dramatically.
Nick Lapis, director of the California Alliance Against Waste, agreed with Wanless. He said: “The problem with landfills is that the waste is never going away and it’s not stable. They keep decaying and it can also cause the plastic liners in the landfill to become brittle or even crack. Once the plastic The liner is completely broken, the clay liner won’t last long, and the environment will be devastated.”
| For the sake of the environment, it is imperative to move mountains |
Wanless predicts that by 2100, sea levels will rise by 10 feet, or even 15 feet. So these coastal landfills must now be disposed of and moved inland. “We should act early, before the cost of diversion is high. Once these landfills are submerged or become islands surrounded by water, it will be too late,” Wanless said.
The South Dade Landfill in Florida is a prime example. Founded in 1978, this giant man-made garbage mountain is less than a mile from the Atlantic Ocean and about 150 feet high, making it the second highest elevation in the South Florida peninsula (the highest being the nearby Broward County Landfill , at a height of about 200 feet), this landfill receives trash from all over Miami.
In the next 10 to 13 years, the amount of waste collected in landfills here will explode until it reaches its peak, said Akaya Clapanda, deputy director of the solid waste management department in Miami’s South Dade County. After that, they will close the landfill. But what to do with this mountain of garbage? “What else can we do? You can’t move a mountain,” Clapanda said helplessly. It is
indeed difficult to move a large amount of waste from the coast to the interior, which makes the US environmental protection group “Serra” The club’s New Jersey superintendent, Jeff Teitel, is pessimistic about the future of the state’s northeastern coast. “In the Meadowlands, New Jersey, there are eight huge landfills, and one is even a mile long and 300 feet high,” he said. Even a small landfill would take a year to divert. Big money, let alone such a “Big Mac”? Also, the local government doesn’t have much money to divert these landfills. “Local officials tried to build dykes to prevent sea water from flooding back, but doing so was only a temporary solution. Now we think that by 2100, the sea level will rise by at least eight feet. One day, the sea water will flood these landfills, and we I’ve seen the power of Hurricane Sandy in 2012,” Teitel said worriedly.
Garbage as evidence of human consumption “dotted” America’s coastlines. As sea levels rise, these wastes are increasingly harmful to the environment.
In Virginia Beach, stands an 800-foot-long, 60-foot-high mountain with green grass. You may never know that six feet under the mountain turf is covered with a thick plastic liner that contains 640,000 tons of municipal waste. It turned out that in the mid-1960s, the local government approved a municipal project to convert a mountain of garbage, located just 12 feet above sea level and 2 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, into a park. This is the Mount Trashmore Park. origin.
If predictions of eight feet of sea level rise come true by 2100, “Mount Trashmore” could be renamed “Trashmore Island,” at least during stormy weather. Waves and storm surges will inevitably erode the mountain of garbage, as Wanless and other experts predict. Unless the U.S. does a national effort to move these coastal landfills quickly, or countries around the world make a concerted effort to significantly reduce carbon, the rising coastline will eventually swallow Mount Trashmore and thousands of other landfills along the U.S. coast. Buried.
In the United States, no one is now associating the end of the world with landfills. Of course, some experts have discussed plans to move residents from low-lying coastal cities to live inland in the face of rising sea levels, but coastal landfills are clearly not part of the plan. In this regard, Professor Sachs of the University of Richmond said worriedly: “I worry that as the residents of the coastal cities continue to evacuate, only those landfills are left in the end.”
Solenas knows that he can no longer hesitate . Finally, she must leave her home near the Ramney Wetland, because next to it is the “Big Mac” garbage mountain, and the local government has “extended the life” of the Wheelabrator landfill for another five years. The scale will be further expanded. “For the past ten years, I’ve been debating whether or not to leave this house where my family and I have lived for nearly half a century. Now I know it’s time to leave. I put warning signs on every window in my house, It says: ‘This is a flood zone!’ I know it’s going to annoy some of the neighbors, but with rising sea levels, if they don’t leave, they’re going to be refugees one day,” Solenas said.