EPA, Hawaii landfill reach agreement over fire threat

By Stephanie Ostrowski | Mar 8, 2013

HONOLULU (Legal Newsline) - An agreement has been reached between the Environmental Protection Agency and Waste Management of Hawaii over violations of air pollution laws at the Waimanalo Gulch Landfill in Kapolei, Oahu.

To reduce the threat of underground fires at landfills the settlement requires enhanced gas monitoring, fire response procedures are followed in the event of a fire, and a civil penalty of $1.1 million by Waste Management, operator of the landfill and the City, owner of the landfill.

Waste Management has spent an estimated $1.5 million to design and construct a gas collection/control system required by federal law.

Released Feb. 28, the settlement will resolve allegations that Waste Management and the city failed to design, construct and operate a gas collection/control system, submit notifications regarding failures to complete construction milestones, prepare a startup, shutdown and malfunction plan, and to operate controls within the gas temperature limit.

Additionally, from 2002 to 2005, air toxins such as organic compounds and methane was emitted from the landfill.

Federal law requires large landfills to install and operate systems to collect gases generated by decomposing refuse. To prevent toxic gas from escaping into the atmosphere there must be effective gas controls at landfills to reduce the release of these gases.

Despite the federal default limit for landfill gas temperatures at 131 degrees, the Waimanalo Gulch Landfill has recorded temperatures as high as 188. That could result in an underground fire.

"Our settlement helps reduce the risk of fire at the Waimanalo Gulch Landfill, where gases reach temperatures that are among the highest for any landfill in the nation," said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA's Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. "By bringing it into compliance with the Clean Air Act, we are protecting the community and the environment from exposure to toxic landfill gas."

Even though there is currently no underground combustion at the facility, according to the settlement the company must comply with new safe interim gas temperature limits and perform additional special gas monitoring to ensure all data meets the requirements. When the interim limits expire in 2016, Waste Management may use the recorded data as support to request a permanent temperature limit that is higher than the default.

Waimanalo Gulch Landfill had a previous violation with the EPA in January 2011 when the EPA issued an enforcement order under the Clean Water Act at the landfill after heavy rains flooded a section of the landfill and caused waste to be released. As a result beaches were contaminated and closed. EPA required an immediate cleanup, measures to stabilize the structure after the flooding, and storm water control projects at the landfill.

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