Cathy Dyson writes about King George County.
King George Landfill buzzing
If the amount of trash coming to the King George Landfill is an economic indicator, times are getting better.
Thomas Cue, district manager of the regional facility, told the King George County Board of Supervisors recently that “our tonnage is trending upwards, which is great. That’s a good sign of everything.”
In April, trucks from across the region brought 113,000 tons of household trash and construction waste to the landfill. The total was even higher the next month: 125,000 tons.
“That was the highest two months, back to back, that we’ve seen, probably in the last four years,” Cue said.
The tonnage is quite the contrast to 2010 and 2011, when the landfill fell short of its annual maximum limit.
As part of its agreement with King George County, Waste Management can accept 1.24 million tons of trash a year. That’s an average of 104,000 tons of trash a month.
The county gets $5 for each ton, which amounts to about $6.4 million in revenue when the landfill operates at capacity.
It was 20,000 tons below the limit in 2010 and 120,000 tons under the next year, Cue said. The smaller amounts tend to be typical of a recession, when there’s less construction—and the waste that goes with it—and people hold on to appliances and devices instead of buying new ones.
But activity is buzzing again at the landfill, and it’s not just because trucks are trekking down State Route 3 east. Four construction projects are under way. One portion of the landfill is being closed permanently as another is opened. Workers are finishing a $12 million system to eliminate hydrogen sulfide, a byproduct of decomposing coal ash, which has the unpleasant aroma of rotten eggs.
And Waste Management is keeping its promise to King George to build a new convenience center near the existing one at State Route 206, next to the former landfill.
“There will be a beautiful paved road in and out, and it should be open the first week of July, weather permitting,” Cue told the supervisors about the new center. “We’re very optimistic about it. It should be quite nice.”
‘AN ODOR OR TWO’
Cue gave a slight warning, along with his updates. Workers have to tap into existing cells as they open the new area and close the old one. That means they’ll expose areas that have high levels of hydrogen sulfide.
“Which means the release of an odor or two,” he said. “None so far, but we’ll keep our fingers crossed. We’ll be vigilant and do this as quickly as we can.”
One 10-acre cell is being capped, or covered permanently. Trash was dumped there until about six years ago, when the area was covered with dirt and left alone.
The trash settled so much there’s room for more—about 96,000 tons more.
Workers are removing the dirt atop it so they can fill the cell. Then they’ll cover it with about 2 feet of dirt.
“We are done with it at that point,” Cue said. “We will plant grass on it, and it will be pretty. Well, I think it’s pretty.”
NEW CELL, OLD SMELL
Workers should finish capping the old cell by September, when a new seven-acre cell will be ready for trash. To prepare the new site, workers have to pull back the cover of the cell next to it. They have to weld the liner of the new cell, which covers the bottom, to the existing one.
Cue admits he was nervous approaching the area because it contains some of most potent smells in the landfill.
That’s where most ash from a coal-fired plant in Alexandria had been dumped. The ash was treated with a process that is usually harmless, but when it decomposed and mixed with water and food waste, it created massive amounts of hydrogen sulfide.
State officials realized levels of the compound were 32 times higher in King George than in most landfills.
Workers installed misters—systems that shoot out giant streams of air fresheners, sort of like big cans of Febreze, Cue said.
And they put a thick cover over the offending areas. But because there are 211 tons of coal ash in the area, “The smell is going to be there for a while,” he said.
And that leads to the other construction project at the landfill: a system of pipes, towers and microscopic organisms designed to eat up the odors.
USING ‘UNION BUGS’
Waste Management is spending $12 million on a treatment plant that gets rid of the hydrogen sulfide at the landfill. Cue said the company assumed it could install a system similar to one in Florida that cost $5 million, but that wasn’t the case.
The new permanent system will be used for the next 17 years of the landfill’s life expectancy, Cue said. Pipes underneath the landfill cells draw out the gases, then run them into towers. That’s where millions of odor-eating microbes, known as thiobacillus, do their work.
Cue calls them “union bugs.” They occur naturally in soil and will be happy as long as certain pH, pressure and temperature conditions are met, according to a report by CDM Smith, environmental consultants in Massachusetts.
Based on the amount of hydrogen sulfide at the landfill, the bugs should have plenty to eat.
“We hope they turn into nice fat bugs,” said Stuart Manuel, a manager at the treatment plant, “just like our Thanksgiving turkeys.”