[Date Prev][Date Next][Date Index]

E-M:/ PIRGIM report on Riverview



-------------------------------------------------------------------------
Enviro-Mich message from pirgim1@juno.com (Brian M Imus)
-------------------------------------------------------------------------

For immediate
release						Contact:  Brian
Imus
January 7,
1998							313-662-6597

PIRGIM / NELC REPORT

Nationally Known ‘Model’ Landfill Has Long History of Mismanagement and
Environmental Abuse

Based On Material Uncovered In PIRGIM v. Riverview Landfill


	January 10, 1992.  In a national broadcast on ABC’s news program
“20/20,” the city of Riverview, Michigan presents the Riverview Land
Preserve--a combination landfill and recreation complex--as a model for
how to manage our nation’s garbage.  A landfill right in the town that
everyone loves.  According to the “20/20” report, the landfill generates
millions of dollars annually for the city of Riverview through dumping
fees paid by other local communities, an attached methane gas recovery
system, a 27-hole golf course built around the landfill, and the winter
ski hill on top of the landfill--rated as one of the best ski areas in
the midwest.  And the benefits of this additional revenue?  While
maintaining the lowest taxes in the area, Riverview funded school
athletic programs and a senior citizen’s program, built a new City Hall,
purchased new ambulances and a fire engine, plus much more.  And the
neighbors love the landfill enough to buy half-million dollar homes
across the street. 

	That was the “20/20” report in 1992.  But in 1996, based on sworn
testimony from landfill employees and previously undisclosed documents
produced in an environmental lawsuit brought against the landfill by
environmental organizations PIRGIM and NELC, a different picture of the
landfill emerged:  one of mismanagement, corruption, and environmental
danger.  For example, only a few months before the “20/20” program, 
landfill employees had called a meeting, fearful that their health had
been affected by the prohibited dumping of PCB-tainted wastes at the
landfill.  Exposure to PCBs--a toxic industrial waste--has been
associated with liver and kidney damage, reproductive and developmental
effects, and cancer, leading the EPA to classify them as probable human
carcinogens.   Testing confirmed the presence of PCBs at the landfill,
but the landfill did nothing to clean them up . . . and several years
later, PCBs showed up in the landfill’s discharge to the public sewers at
levels that violated Clean Water Act discharge limits.

	The presence of PCBs at the landfill came to light as the result
of a lawsuit filed against the landfill by the environmental groups for
discharges of wastewater containing excessive levels of a toxic chemical
in violation of the federal Clean Water Act. While investigating these
violations, PIRGIM and NELC took sworn depositions of landfill employees
and reviewed thousands of pages of documents.  Now that the federal court
has issued a final order resolving the lawsuit, the results of that
investigation can be made public.  They demonstrate a long history of
illegal and improper behavior and of serious mismanagement in addition to
the PCB dumping, including:
 
· the illegal discharge in 1994 and 1995 of excessive amounts of
wastewater and of excessive levels of two toxic chemicals--phenols and
PCBs--in violation of the Clean Water Act, local discharge limits, and a
federal court order;
 
· the illegal discharge through the spring of 1996 of unknown quantities
of untreated and unmetered wastewater into the County sewer system from a
sewer connection that was supposed to be closed and sealed off; and

· improper waste acceptance, disposal, and billing practices.  These
practices included the disposal of human caskets and other cemetery
remains at the landfill, the acceptance without charge of unnecessarily
large amounts of debris for road-building, the acceptance without charge
of waste after hours, and billing at unauthorized rates.  These
activities led to an investigation by the state police in 1988.

Dumping of PCB Waste In the Landfill

	As told by Mike Jones,  a heavy equipment operator at the
Riverview landfill, in a court ordered deposition, landfill employees
first feared that PCBs were present at the landfill when they read a
front page Detroit News article in June 1991, which described the state’s
investigation of a Detroit company for the illegal disposal of cocktail
waste in basements of demolished buildings around Detroit.   “Cocktail
waste” is construction debris that has been mixed with a hazardous waste
stream.

	Jones knew that Metro Wrecking, a sister company to the one under
investigation, had deposited hundreds of loads of debris at the landfill
over the previous three years.   
Although the Metro Wrecking debris had been accepted for the purpose of
building roads in the landfill, the landfill had accepted more debris
than necessary.  These excessive quantities had been disposed of in the
active disposal area or used as daily cover to keep down odor,  leading
to the potential for PCB contamination throughout the landfill.
	
	The day after the article came out the employees went to Bob
Elliott, the City Manager and Acting Landfill Director, and Mike Steklac,
the Assistant City Manager, with the news article.

	Jones described their response to the article: “[T]he thing was
getting serious quick. . . .  I could tell by the actions in the room,
because he came right out and said, did I realize . . . that this could
bankrupt this town, coming in here? . . . PCB is the word he used and
looked me in the eye and said, pretty serious stuff, and I said yes.” 

	The landfill administrative assistant estimated the amount of
material received from Metro Wrecking at almost 1,000,000 cubic yards.  
“It rocked everybody in the room back,” Jones testified.   As he
understood it, the costs to cleanup this mess could be huge.   

	Elliott responded immediately by ordering that six samples of the
roads be taken and analyzed for PCBs.  Although two of the three samples
that were taken and analyzed revealed the presence of PCBs at the
landfill,  no follow up studies were performed to determine the degree or
the extent of the contamination until 1995.   Moreover, landfill
management never informed Jones or other concerned employees of the
results of the sampling. 

Cemetery Remains and Other Improper Waste Disposal

	The presence of PCB-contaminated soils was not the only
impropriety at the landfill not featured in the “20/20” program.  Several
years earlier, in 1988, the landfill encountered problems when employees
reported that used human burial paraphernalia, including human burial
caskets, headstones, home-made grave markers, grave blankets, burial
vaults, and discarded floral arrangements, were being disposed of at the
landfill.    In a deposition, Jim Edwards, a heavy equipment operator at
the landfill, describes how truckloads of caskets were discarded in
numerous areas of the landfill.   At one point, one of the caskets
opened, and employees found pink silk inside.  

	According to some employees, landfill management had been aware
of the disposal of these items yet did not object to their disposal.  
Landfill operators subsequently reported the problem to Jerry Perry, the
new landfill Director in the spring of 1988, who called the police.  The
State Police investigated further, in part to look for bodies.   Although
they found soiled, used caskets, headstones dating from the 1940’s and
earlier, and other cemetery remains, they did not find actual bodies.  
Some of the caskets were buried in the landfill, some were removed, and
employees were instructed to refuse future cemetery loads. 

	In addition to cemetery remains, in 1988 the state police also
investigated a multitude of improper disposal and billing activities
which cost the city of Riverview almost half a million dollars in lost
profits.   In interviews with the police, landfill employees described
how the landfill accepted excessive amounts of debris for road building
purposes during Clark’s tenure as director.   Because such waste is
accepted free of charge (unlike waste that is disposed of, for which a
fee is levied), the state police conducted an investigation to determine
whether Clark or others may have received kickbacks as a payoff for
accepting unneeded road materials.  At least five different employees
told state police how waste was disposed of free of charge after hours
and on the weekends,  and during regular hours at reduced rates which the
landfill was not authorized to offer.    The police confirmed a loss to
the city of approximately $455,000 in profits as a result of these
practices.   The 1988 police investigation coincided with Clark’s abrupt
departure from the landfill.   Soon after, the state police wound down
their investigation.  Clark was never charged with any crimes.


Effluent Violations

	Since the 1992 “20/20” report, the landfill has continued to
belie its depiction as a model of solid waste management through
violations of the Clean Water Act and other environmental safeguards.  In
1994 and 1995, the landfill illegally discharged into the County sewers
more than 5 million gallons of leachate --the wastewater that forms in a
landfill when liquid moves through the refuse as the waste decomposes. 
These discharges directly violated a consent decree, which had been
entered by a federal court in 1993 to settle the lawsuit brought by
PIRGIM and Downriver Citizens.  The decree required that:  (1) the
landfill install a system that would recirculate the landfill’s leachate
within the landfill and eliminate all discharges of leachate into the
sewer; and (2) if a discharge did occur, presumably either prior to
completion of the system or due to an emergency, it would comply with
discharge limits established by the County.   By discharging huge
quantities of wastewater into the sewers, the landfill flagrantly
violated this first requirement of the consent decree for over two years.

	In addition to illegally discharging excessive quantities of
leachate, on four occasions the landfill’s discharge contained illegal
levels of either phenol or PCBs, two toxic chemicals.   Both the permit
and the federal court order prohibited such discharges, which violated
the discharge limits set by the County.   The discharge of PCBs into the
sewer was so serious that the County immediately ordered the landfill to
cease discharging leachate from the PCB-contaminated area of the landfill
into the sewer.  When PCBs were subsequently detected in leachate from
another area of the landfill, the County immediately ordered that all
discharges into the sewer system cease.   The County has only recently
authorized the landfill to resume discharges of wastewater, and only in
compliance with a tough new permit that requires extensive testing prior
to discharge to ensure that PCBs are not discharged into the sewer. 

	The city of Riverview is currently conducting a confidential,
internal investigation to identify the sources of PCBs and the extent of
contamination.  Although the results of this investigation have not been
made public, compliance reports submitted by the landfill to the County
indicate that PCBs in the leachate are concentrated in parts of the
northeast area, and are present in “hot spots” in various areas of the
landfill.  Several internal leachate samples reveal PCBs at levels up to
thousands of times higher than the landfill’s discharge limit.    

 Illegal Sewer Tap

	Although it appeared that the landfill’s illegal discharges of
wastewater ceased with the County’s orders to eliminate all discharges,
on March 19, 1996 two heavy equipment operators at the landfill
discovered the ongoing discharge of untreated leachate through an unknown
sewer connection.  Until this discovery, both landfill and County
employees thought this sewer connection had been removed more than two
years earlier when the leachate recirculation system was installed.

	Since the leachate recirculation system had been installed in
late 1993, landfill employees and County regulators had believed that the
landfill could discharge into the sewer in only two locations, at which
treatment and monitoring occurred.  A third outfall in the northwest area
of the landfill, they believed, had been sealed off in 1993, and had no
monitoring or treatment capabilities.  They further believed that an open
valve in the northwest area sent leachate to one of the two authorized
discharge locations.   But on March 19, 1996, Mike Jones and Jim Edwards
discovered that leachate flowed through the open valve directly into the
public sewers through the supposedly closed connection in the northwest
area--without any treatment or monitoring.    

	Edwards described this discovery in a deposition:  “[We
p]anicked, literally.  We didn’t know what to think.  We had a pump,
pumping probably two hundred gallons a minute of leachate, and it wasn’t
going where we expected it to go. . . . We thought what was going on was
illegal.  If this was discharging, it was an illegal act.”    

	Jones, also in a deposition, described similar feelings:  “I
didn’t know how it was getting there.  I started wondering if there was a
valve I didn’t know about.  Your mind starts to run away with you, what
in the hell have I just tripped.  I knew I was in trouble for even ever
seeing it.” 

	Jones and Edwards were particularly concerned by the serious
implications of their discovery:  the landfill could have discharged huge
quantities of unmonitored, untreated, and unreported wastewater for more
than two years, violating both the federal consent decree, and the
restrictions in the landfill’s discharge permit.  Although the deposition
testimony of other landfill employees is conflicting, Jones and Edwards
testified that the northwest valve that sent leachate into the sewer
through this illegal connection had been left open during most of this
more than two year period,  permitting a nearly continuous discharge.

	Upon learning of the illegal sewer hookup, Wayne County began an
immediate investigation and instituted administrative proceedings against
the landfill.  In addition to requiring extensive testing throughout the
landfill to determine the locations of PCB contamination, the County
assessed Riverview a $75,000 fine for its violations.   The County has
also issued Riverview a tough new permit that requires extensive testing
prior to discharge, ensuring that the landfill’s discharges remain free
of PCBs. 

	In December 1997, PIRGIM and Downriver Citizens for a Safe
Environment agreed to a second, $114,000 court-ordered settlement with
the Riverview landfill to resolve their Clean Water Act lawsuit.  This
second consent decree requires the landfill to comply with all federal,
state and local orders and regulations, extensive testing of its
wastewater prior to discharging into the county sewer, and improved
treatment of the wastewater for phenols prior to discharge.  No discharge
is permitted if  PCBs are detected in the leachate to be discharged.  
The decree also requires the landfill to pay $100,000 in penalties to
Wayne County and the U.S. Treasury, and $14,000 in payments for local
environmental projects.

	Meanwhile, Riverview has begun to clean up.  It has hired a new,
qualified landfill engineer and a new, qualified landfill director.  It
has begun more comprehensive studies into the extent of the PCBs in the
landfill.  It tests and treats all of its leachate prior to discharge. 
In other words, it is only now meeting the minimum standards of
acceptable conduct for any landfill--five years after it described itself
to the national media as a landfill of the future.

	It is ironic that many of the landfill’s violations resulted in
part from the ski-hill’s leaking snowmaking operations, which filled the
landfill with leachate too quickly.    In the “20/20” program, Riverview
portrayed the ski hill as one of the landfill’s primary assets in
“turning trash into cash.”   It now appears that the landfill and its ski
operation turned trash into toxic discharges--hardly an effort worth
celebrating.










This report was written by NELC attorneys Louise Franklin and Andy
Buchsbaum.
Material referenced in footnotes is available upon request.

PIRGIM, the Public Interest Research Group In Michigan, is a nonprofit,
nonpartisan environmental and consumer watchdog group with approximately
10,000 members statewide.

NELC, the National Environmental Law Center, is a nonprofit law and
policy organization with offices in Ann Arbor and Boston.

==============================================================
ENVIRO-MICH:  Internet List and Forum for Michigan Environmental
and Conservation Issues and Michigan-based Citizen Action.   Archives at
http://www.great-lakes.net/lists/enviro-mich/

Postings to:  enviro-mich@great-lakes.net      For info, send email to
majordomo@great-lakes.net  with a one-line message body of  "info enviro-mich"
==============================================================