With fanfare, ash arrives

June 28, 2002|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

With great fanfare, two truckloads of incinerator ash - about 40 tons - were dumped at a Franklin County, Pa., landfill Thursday, ending a nomadic journey that began 16 years ago in Philadelphia.

More ash is on the way.

Anywhere from 2,200 to 3,000 tons - it could be more; no one was sure Thursday - will be dumped at Mountain View Reclamation Landfill over the next two weeks, after a train hauls daily loads from Florida to Hagerstown.

The municipal waste ash is a portion of the approximately 14,800 tons that the city of Philadelphia generated and tried to dispose of in 1986.


Four states rejected the ash, and so did the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma and a dozen countries - from the Bahamas in the Caribbean Sea to Indonesia in the Indian Ocean.

About 10,800 tons of ash were dumped in the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

The remaining 4,000 tons spent six years on a Haitian beach under the assumption that it was fertilizer, then two years on a barge on Florida's Atlantic coast, before Pennsylvania agreed to take it back.

The first load arrived in Hagerstown Wednesday after a six-day trip.

No one was certain why the ash was estimated at 4,000 tons in Haiti but up to 3,000 tons is expected in Franklin County.

The state of Florida is paying the estimated $600,000 it will cost to haul the ash to Franklin County, said Willie Puz, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Mountain View Reclamation Landfill, near Upton, Pa., stretches into Antrim and Montgomery townships.

Waste Management, which runs the landfill, invited the media to witness the arrival of the first load of ash Thursday afternoon. Reporters and photographers got to see one load. A second load arrived later in the day, after the press had left.

Waste Management hosted an information session at the landfill Wednesday evening. Company officials said about 20 people attended and had no objections.

In a lengthy story about the ash, Philadelphia Weekly, an alternative newspaper, reported that people in Haiti who handled the ash became ill and died and cattle died after eating grass near the ash pile.

A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study of similar Philadelphia ash bound for Panama found it contained "levels of lead, cadmium and benzene which occasionally exceed hazardous waste thresholds, as well as a wide array of heavy metals and toxic chemicals," the Philadelphia Weekly story said.

The Pennsylvania DEP said, however, that the ash going to Franklin County has been analyzed by the Pennsylvania DEP, the Florida DEP, the EPA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the city of Philadelphia and an independent company.

"This is probably the most tested incinerator ash that's ever been," said Dennis Buterbaugh, a press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

Buterbaugh said Pennsylvania's DEP called Florida's DEP late last year and offered to take the ash back if it tested OK, which it did.

"A state should take care of waste that its citizens generate," Buterbaugh said.

Asked why it took Pennsylvania 16 years to step in, he said different people were in charge at the time.

B.J. Roberts, an Antrim Township supervisor who is the landfill inspector, said the Franklin County ash contains metals, including copper and zinc, but at low levels.

"I feel comfortable," said Roberts, who helped supervise the transfer of ash from Hagerstown to the landfill. "(Otherwise,) I would have made a lot of noise and - not singlehandedly - could have stopped it from coming."

Roberts said landfills regularly accept incinerator ash, although Mountain View Reclamation hasn't because there are no incinerators in its coverage area.

More dangerous garbage is often dumped at the landfill, such as fluorescent light bulbs containing mercury and electronic components with lead soldering, Roberts said.

The landfill's double liner system prevents materials from leaking out, said John L. Oren, a sanitary engineer with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection's Waste Management Program. A membrane liner and 2 feet of soil cover trash.

Puz, of the Florida DEP, said trains will run from Miami to Hagerstown daily.

Each day, about 200 tons of ash will be dumped at Mountain View Reclamation Landfill until all of it is gone, said Judy Archibald, the regional community relations manager for Waste Management.

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