- Methane is a greenhouse gas that is more potent than carbon dioxide and is a major contributor to climate change.
- The EPA has not publicly released the results of its inspections
- Waste disposal company Republic Services is considering a significant landfill expansion
Methane leaks at the Coffin Butte Landfill exceed state and federal limits and what the landfill has released, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency inspection found.
Landfills are among the biggest sources of methane, a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide and a major contributor to climate change, according to the EPA.
The EPA measured methane 61 times above regulatory limits during a June 2022 inspection of the landfill. Twenty-one of those exceedances were measured at more than 10,000 parts per million, or 20 times the 500 ppm limit set by Oregon and the EPA.
In addition to contributing to climate change, the measured levels can cause health problems for neighbors and in some cases have been high enough to cause explosions and fires, said Lisa Arkin of the Eugene-based environmental group Beyond Toxics.
Coffin Butte, located off Highway 99W north of Corvallis, is operated by Republic Services, the second largest waste disposal company in the United States. The landfill is an integral part of Marion County’s solid waste disposal system.
The inspection report noted that there were so many exceedances that the inspector ran out of marking flags. In some cases, the levels were so high that instruments could not measure them. And multiple exceedances were measured several feet into the air, indicating significant accumulations of landfill gas, the report said.
Coffin Butte and local Republic Services officials accepted an interview request from the Statesman Journal but did not respond to any questions.
While we have different views on the test protocols and analyzes from EPA’s 2022 inspections, EPA’s observations have been addressed,” Melissa Quillard, spokeswoman for Republic Services’ media relations office in Phoenix, said in an emailed statement.
“The landfill was already in the process of expanding the gas collection system at the time of the EPA inspection, which has since been completed. We added extra coverage in some areas, added soil along the edge of the tarps, drilled small holes in one area. line system and reinforced seals around the gas collection pipes,” he said.
The EPA has not publicly released the results of its inspections. Beyond Toxics, working with the climate group Industrious Labs, obtained a copy of the report in response under the federal Freedom of Information Act.
Since then, groups have filed complaints about excess methane emissions, prompting EPAs environmental violations. Their complaint included photos taken by neighbors who live near the landfill showing holes and tears in the tarps covering the landfill, which could allow methane to escape.
The findings come as Republic Services considers a significant expansion of the landfill, which is currently permitted at 178 acres.
The Coffin Butte Landfill’s role in Marion County’s solid waste system
Most of Marion County’s trash is burned at Covanta’s municipal waste incinerator in Brooks.
About a quarter of the trash burned at Covanta ends up as ash, which is trucked to Coffin Butte to be used as an alternative daily mulch. Landfills must cover their active area at the end of each day to control vectors, fires, odors, blowing debris, and litter.
About half of the stormwater runoff from Coffin Butte, which flows through the ash and trash, picking up pollutants, is then trucked to the City of Salem’s wastewater system, where it is treated and discharged into the Willamette River. The other half is treated by the city of Corvallis, which also discharges into the Willamette.
Salem began receiving landfill runoff in 2012. Over three years from January 2020 to December 2022, the city was paid $1.28 million to clean up 42.6 million gallons of runoff from Coffin Butte and the Republic Services waste transfer station in Benton County. .
Salem also recycles effluent from the LRI Landfill in Graham, Washington and Recology Organics composting facilities in Aumsville and North Plains.
Garbage from Marion County that doesn’t go to Covanta is taken to Coffin Butte, as is garbage from West Salem residents who live in Polk County.
According to the landfill’s most recent annual report, Coffin Butte receives more trash from Marion County than any other county it serves. In 2021, the landfill accepted 326,000 tons of waste from Marion County, 143,000 tons from Linn County, 115,000 tons each from Benton and Lincoln counties and 73,000 tons from Polk County.
Oregon’s new landfill has the strictest rules in the country
Coffin Butte, along with other landfills, operates a gas capture system for methane, which is produced when organic waste decomposes. The landfill is partnering with PNGC Power to generate 5.66 megawatts of energy from the gas collected on site, providing enough electricity for about 4,000 homes.
In October 2021, the Oregon Commission on Environmental Quality adopted new rules governing landfill gas emissions. Oregon now has the most stringent methane monitoring and reduction standards in the nation.
But landfill operators generally work on an honor system for testing and reporting, says Kathryn Blauvelt of Industrious Labs.
The landfill must track and conduct effective monitoring, Blauvelt said. That, in a nutshell, is the real problem that this (EPA inspection report) highlights.
EPA questions Republic Services monitoring
EPA environmental scientist Daniel Hines expressed concern in the report about Republic Services’ monitoring procedures.
In its monitoring reports, the company said it detected a total of six methane outages. Some reports had zero exceedances.
That compares to 61 exceedances found by an EPA inspector, with 26 exceedances at gas collection wells that the Republic was supposed to specifically monitor on a quarterly basis,” Hines wrote.
Many flagged exceedances represented clusters of exceedances at multiple points or broad areas of exceedances, he wrote.
Haynes found an area where the tarp was visibly inflated and leaking landfill gas.
Every post or tarp hole monitored by Daniel Haynes along the top of this stretch of tarps exceeded the surface methane standard, with readings of up to 7% (methane) showing before the tool maxed out, the report said.
Haynes noted that such a build-up of flammable gas poses a potential safety concern.
Hines was accompanied by Republic Services Environmental Specialist Phil Caruso. Neither could identify any locations where the wind could have lifted the tarps, but Republic officials later disputed that the tarps were inflated with landfill gas, claiming that the wind had blown them off, according to the report.
Haynes also found excess methane in areas of the landfill that are believed to be under final closure and sealing to ensure nothing escapes.
The inspection was pre-planned, and EPA offered Republic Services the opportunity to take their own readings to verify EPA’s monitoring results. Republic officials responded that it was company policy not to do so, the report said.
Phil Caruso did not dispute any of the readings, although he noted that he would not have checked many of the overshoot locations, that he would have spent less time monitoring, or that he would have considered the higher location “on the ground” when setting up. Its probe is 5 to 10 centimeters above the ground, according to regulations for monitoring surface emissions, Hines wrote in the report.
Follow-up on methane monitoring
The EPA has requested more information from the company, but it is unclear what further action the agency has taken.
“EPA is still in the process of assessing compliance at the Coffin Butte landfill, based in part on the inspection report you referenced,” EPA Region 10 spokesman Sam Lovell said in an email to the Statesman Journal.
“EPA is working closely with state and local Clean Air Act permits on these and other issues, and the agency will continue to coordinate with Oregon DEQ on next steps at this landfill,” Lovell said.
Blauvelt said he submitted an FOI request to the EPA for additional legal documents related to the case and was told they were not available.
DEQ spokesman Dylan Darling referred specific questions to the EPA about the report’s findings.
However, he said. “As part of DEQ’s new landfill rules and regulations, the company has indicated to DEQ that it is working to expand its collection and monitoring system. The Company continues to provide monthly and semiannual reports to DEQ as required under this Act. their Title V air permit.”
Advocates say Oregon and the EPA should require better methane monitoring using drones or satellites.
You can deploy technology that will act as a scout and notice these overproduction events, significant methane leaks, and then fix them, Blauvelt said.
We can use technology to at least overcome this baseline problem, which is that we have no way of knowing if you live next to a landfill that has really serious problems, he said.
Tracy Lowe covers the environment for the Statesman Journal. Send comments, questions and firstname.lastname@example.org or 503-399-6779. Follow him on Twitter at@Tracy_Loew:
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