The Grady Road Landfill is a hot topic once again, this time with the Polk commission concerned about an ongoing problem that has Waste Industries seeking answers due to a pollution notice published in past weeks.
Commissioners called upon Waste Industries’ George Gibbons to answer some tough questions about information that they neglected to share about the higher levels of a mineral element showing up in Cedartown’s Wastewater Treatment plant.
Before Gibbons could even begin to make a statement, Glenn Campbell and Ed Burnley jumped out of their seats and protested his inclusion in the meeting since he had not been mentioned on the agenda.
Commission chair Marshelle Thaxton ordered the pair to sit, and Polk County Police Chief Kenny Dodd also asked Campbell and Burnley to sit before Gibbons went on.
The Waste Industries representative was called before the board to explain a question over why the company that operates the Polk County Landfill about a notice printed in the Oct. 18 edition of the Polk County Standard Journal that reported the company and the HON Company had exceeded the permissible levels of molybdenum and cadmium, respectively, being processed by the Cedartown Wastewater Treatment facility.
The big question of the night, one posed by Commissioner Jennifer Hulsey and expressed in comments by others, was why the county first learned of the issue through the ad, and not through direct communication with the county itself.
“Why weren’t we notified before we were put in the paper? Because I know for a fact that if you want to advertise something in the paper, it takes more than a week to get that done. And furthermore, why wasn’t Matt (Denton) informed, because we got this on a weekend, and we’re all wondering what is going on,” Hulsey said.
Gibbons said it was an oversight, and promised that in the future he’ll provide more specific information. He said he’d had many conversations with the city about the issue before the statement was posted, and didn’t think to tell county officials other than “that you might be blindsided by it.”
“We were blindsided by it,” Hulsey said. “I know you said all that, and I know in our contract that he (Denton) is the point of contact for stuff that is going on.”
“And we also have to mention that the wastewater treatment plant is an agreement that we have with them,” Gibbons said. “...If you want me to apologize, I understand that. But we were working with the city.”
The problem centers around the 42nd element on the periodic table, one that is used a lot in making alloys and is usually found in a state in nature where it is part of a compound with other elements, especially those in nature used to as a catalyst to break down chemicals into their component atoms. 50 different bacterial enzymes use molybdenum, for instance. Most compounds containing molybdenum have low solubility in water, but are found in organisms big and small.
In low concentrations, molybdenum isn’t much of a health concern and no one really notices the trace elements found in the plants and animals eaten daily. Chronic ingestion of more than 10 milligrams a day can lead to a number of problems, according to the CDC. Those include irritation of the eyes, nose, throat; anorexia, diarrhea, weight loss; listlessness; liver, kidney damage.
It is to be noted that toxic exposures to molybdenum usually comes through inhalation, but ingestion can be a concern if concentrations are too high.
Gibbons explained the company is allowed .034 parts per million (or ppm) of molybdenum to be part of the leachate that comes out of the landfill while trash is decomposing. In previous tests, those levels were recorded at .067 ppm, nearly twice the amount permitted for Waste Industries to include in their pumping of leachate into city’s sewer system for processing.
“What happened wa during the past couple of years, we’ve seen spikes in the Moly (molybdenum,) going up,” Gibbons said. “Those limits are set very low. As time goes on and chemistry changes with the garbage breaking down, so the Moly began to rise. And like I said, Moly is a mineral. And at no time was the wastewater treatment plant out of compliance.”
What the wastewater treatment plant in Cedartown has been processing — which Gibbons complimented their work on — is leachate. It is the mix of the liquid leftovers generated by trash being compacted and decomposing, and includes a number of chemicals that are processed in collection ponds at the landfill itself, going through several steps before being pumped out by a private firm and then disposed of in the Cedartown Wastewater system, where it is further processed back to clean water before it is released back into the creeks, and along into rivers.
Gibbons added that there has been no environmental impact in the process.
Cedartown’s wastewater treatment plant makes a byproduct of their own in the processing of sewage that is trucked into the Polk County Landfill as part of the agreement for Waste Industries using the city to provide a final cleaning on the leachate at the landfill.
He said the cause for the increase — recorded twice in biannual testing between August 2016 and September 2017 — is still unknown and further work is being done to track down the cause.
He emphasized the Molybdenum isn’t ending up in the water supply since it is being processed out with other wastewater, but the increase violates a contract level set when the agreement between the landfill and the City of Cedartown, which is the reason why it was reported.
Those levels were set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, and though Gibbons said it was his hopes the levels could be increased so the landfill would be in compliance, he wasn’t sure yet whether that was an option.
He added that if necessary, the Landfill would potentially take the leachate elsewhere for processing in order to ensure that it would go back into compliance. They face fines and additional charges for water processing if they don’t get the levels down, he said.
“What that entails for us is we have to do some further testing to track down the problem, and we have to bring that Moly (level) back into compliance,” he said. “If we don’t bring it back into compliance, we’re subject to surcharges and fines on our POTW (the agreement to treat their leachate.) But with it being such a large area at the landfill, it isn’t a problem we can solve by just adding something to the Moly. It just doesn’t happen that way, it is all done through chemistry.”
Gibbons added that “we are coming up with a game plan with how to proceed,” but said he didn’t have a definite timetable for Waste Industries correcting the level since they weren’t sure why the levels had increased.
“It may take longer, but we’re working on a solution to the problem,” he said.
Gibbons said they take samples twice annually, and additional sampling is underway to get a composite sample with Cedartown officials to find the specific problem.
Commissioner Jose Iglesias asked a question that was on the mind of the rest of the board: what steps are being taken about the problem?
Gibbons said he would provide further information about Landfill operations, and invited commissioners out for a tour of the facility.
“I’ve toured the facility already, and I think what Commissioner Hulsey is being clear on is that for the landfill to have communication, and with Matt and (Barry) Akinson were there, and nothing was mentioned that day,” Iglesias said. “We’d like you to be more informative whether it is good or bad, so we can inform the citizens of Polk County. So you don’t have to let a newspaper put something out there without us being notified through Matt... You had an opportunity there to at least mention it, and say look ‘this is coming out.’.”
Gibbons added that he had guidance from “region managers and corporate people” who were involved.
“You have to understand our position, we have to be transparent with the people of Polk County,” Iglesias said. “We have to have communication so we aren’t alarmed... That sets an alarm on Polk County, and we look bad.”
Complaints about the landfill and want for further information about operations being made public were the reason Burnley came back before the commission Monday night prior to Gibbons being added to the night’s agenda.
In response to those comments, new Commissioner Hal Floyd said that even in the first days on the job, he’s already received some information about what is going on with the landfill and is learning more about the contract, and seeks to know as much as possible and providing that to the public as soon as possible.
“I want to find out everything that I can about it,” he said. “I want to know what we’ve legally committed to, what they are responsible for, and what sort of enforcement there is going on. You’re right in your assumption that it will probably cost an arm and a leg to close it. But let’s make sure that they are covering it like they are supposed to... I promise you I’m going to find out. I believe in transparency, and I believe in providing people the truth.”
Additionally, commissioners were all in agreement about getting the roadway in front of the landfill fixed on Grady Road, where trucks have through turning movements caused a dip to form in the roadway. Hulsey wanted a firm deadline on when the work will be completed. They voted for that work to move forward during the Tuesday, Nov. 7, regular session
“I would like us to get a timetable on that work,” Hulsey said last week. “We’ve been asking about fixing this problem for a while now.”
Waste Industries has agreed to help with sharing the costs, Denton told commissioners. He said no specific numbers had yet been proposed for how much the landfill operator would contribute, or no timetable on when the money will be given over.
They were already out doing work at the beginning of the week to repair the roadway.