COLUMBUS, OH (AP) The rotten-egg smell from crumbling, wet drywall led to a $3-million taxpayer-paid cleanup in northeast Ohio and put state lawmakers on notice that debris from construction sites is anything but inert.
House and Senate leaders want to pass new rules for construction and demolition debris landfills — now allowed within 50 ft. of a home — before a ban on new dumps expires at the end of the year. Both landfill operators and environmentalists have some quibbles but said the bill is a big improvement.
“It gives us a lot more controls that we really needed early on,” said Erv Ball, assistant director of environmental health at the Cuyahoga County Board of Health. Local health boards license the facilities.
Ohio now has approximately 70 construction landfills with looser regulations than regular landfills, because they were meant to hold only bricks, wood, concrete and similar debris. But a September study by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency found high levels of lead, arsenic and cyanide leaking from the sites as rain fell.
The U.S. EPA in April started a $3-million Superfund cleanup of a construction landfill in Warren, where crushed drywall mixed with rain to form hydrogen sulfide gas, a toxic substance that smells like rotten eggs. Work should be done next month, the agency said.
Under the bill, construction landfills would no longer accept debris that’s pulverized beyond recognition — easing worries that household trash or other toxins would sneak into the sites. The facilities also would have to be 100 ft. away from streams and wetlands and 500 ft. away from homes, drinking water wells, parks, state forests, natural areas, lakes and historic landmarks.
Earlier, lawmakers had tried to extend the moratorium until April, but Senate Democrats defeated a provision making it take effect immediately, creating a gap of a few months when operators could open new facilities under the old rules.
Those working on the bill said they needed the moratorium because the bill strengthening the regulations was months away, but the pieces fell into place as the deadline loomed, said Sen. Tom Niehaus, a Cincinnati-area Republican who introduced the Senate version of the new regulations. It’s a copy of the House bill by Rep. John Hagan, an Alliance Republican, so Senate committee members can hear testimony and be ready to act when the House votes. Gov. Bob Taft has said he would sign it.
“It’s a good, strong bill,” said Jack Shaner, a lobbyist for the Ohio Environmental Council.
However, he and others who dislike the facilities are concerned that the bill will not apply to about seven applications filed this year that have been held up under the moratorium. The bill would allow those to go forward under the old law.
“If you’re a new or expanding landfill, regardless of when your application was filed, you should have to meet the more protective standards,” Shaner said.
Debbie Roth, head of a community group opposing the landfills, said a proposed landfill in Girard is too close to a river and schools. Girard officials have twice sent the application back to Youngstown-based Total Waste Logistics with questions.
Sen. Marc Dann, a Youngstown Democrat, led the effort to stymie the moratorium because he wanted the Girard application to fall under the new rules. He said he still opposes allowing it to go forward but will encourage fellow Democrats to vote for the new regulations anyway.
Still, Dann accused the landfill operators of using political connections to rush the June application because they learned the moratorium would be inserted in the state budget, which took effect in July.
Guy Fragle, operations director of Total Waste, said the company bought the property two years ago and has worked since 2004 on geological and engineering studies.
“There’s no way to do one of these permits quickly,” Fragle said.
The proposed landfill meets the current regulations and probably would meet the stricter requirements under the bill, Fragle said. He said residents are singling out his landfill because of the bad experience with the Warren facility.
“For one bad apple, the whole bushel is being marked,” he said.