Let’s play a game of “Guess Who?” I am telling you to take a couple of pills that will help with headaches. No, I am not a doctor or a scientist. No, these pills have not been studied or researched. No, I can’t prove that it will help with headaches. No, I don’t know what the side effects may be. Well, do you know who I am?
Yep, the answer is the North Carolina General Assembly. Two weeks ago, our lawmakers passed House Bill 576 that would allow municipal solid waste landfills to spray “garbage juice” or leachate over the landfill without a permit. This process is referred to as “aerosolization” and uses high pressured fans to blast leachate into the air as a way to “treat” the leachate.
There is no state or federal definition for aerosolization. In theory, the water in leachate will evaporate into the air while the harmful components will fall back into the landfill as a liquid. Like the pills in our game, this idea came from someone who is not a scientist, and this “technology” has not been studied.
Leachate is the liquid that seeps through the waste of landfills and is collected. It is currently treated as wastewater, either onsite or at a municipal wastewater treatment plant, as it is known to carry a wide range of toxic materials, bacteria and viruses. Studies have shown that leachate may contain large amounts of volatile perfluoroalkyl sulfonic acids (PFAs), which are linked to cancer, and viruses such as avian influenza, which can survive for several months in landfill leachate.
We know about the really bad stuff found in leachate, but there is a lot we don’t know about aerosolization. For example, we don’t know what actually happens to the liquid particles once they are sprayed into the air. Where do they go?
Some experts estimate that these toxic particles may drift for miles, ultimately landing on nearby homes, schools, churches, businesses, forests, ponds, streams, etc. Furthermore, what role does a humid climate, like our North Carolina summer, play? What role does wind play? If the garbage juice comes into contact with people, will it affect their health and safety? If so, to what extent? Will food start falling from the sky like a page out of “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs?” Probably not, but in reality, we have no idea. There are too many knowledge gaps in regards to the effectiveness of this technology and the safety of its use in the proximity of people and the environment.
Fortunately, Governor Roy Cooper thought about the implications of unleashing an unproven technology on the people of North Carolina and vetoed the bill. “Scientists, not the legislature, should decide whether a patented technology can safely dispose of contaminated liquids from landfills” Cooper wrote in his veto statement.
This bill will go back to the legislature in the upcoming August session, where the General Assembly will likely attempt to override the governor’s veto and turn this bill into law. Please protect the governor’s veto and tell your representatives to vote “No.” Demand that the state conduct thorough research and study the effects of this technology on the health and safety of our environment and human health before approving its use.
Bryce Cracknell is a Duke University student interning with the Southern Environmental Law Center, North Carolina Environmental Justice Network and at North Carolina Conservation Network as part of the Kenan Pathways of Change Program. The text of this letter can also be found HERE on the Fayetteville Observer website.