Opinion: Is 'Mt. Trashmore' Too Hot to Handle?

Jul 08, 2022 at 02:16 pm by MK37130


I went down a rabbit hole this morning. And I learned things.

Twice this week I’ve heard mention of the radioactive waste that went into Republic/BFI’s "Mount Trashmore." And I’ve heard more than one candidate at the League of Women Voters’ forums say they would negotiate with Republic/BFI and also at least one who was willing to give them the land between their landfill and the County Landfill. Here’s a little history for those who don’t know.

Back in 2007, there was a revelation—thanks to Demetria Kalodimos and Channel 4—that Middle Point Landfill had been accepting “low level” radioactive waste. The public had not known this before then.

Now “low level” can mean lots of things, ranging from medical waste to equipment and parts from decommissioned nuclear power plants. 

Kalodimos reported they had an expert measure radiation levels of the leachate coming from Middle Point and it was measuring way above what is safe for drinking water, but it was the leachate, not the water, just to be clear.

There was public outcry, a public hearing, and it was supposed to stop.

Has it?

I have been told that each truckload of trash going in is tested for radioactive waste and that as a class I landfill they can still accept medical waste. Also, according to the information given in the last couple of Central Tennessee Regional Solid Waste Planning Board meetings, Republic Services/BFI has been cited at least once for accepting more “special waste” than permitted. Special waste that we cannot find out what exactly is in it because either TDEC (Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation) doesn’t know or won’t tell us. 

Since 2007, TDEC has chosen to not allow the public access to this sort of information, citing federal laws about nuclear waste disposal being secret. This is their interpretation and not law, by the way. It's not the first time they have “interpreted” a law to work for them to avoid dealing with public anger. For instance, the odor reporting to them suddenly became “not in our jurisdiction” after the complaints began being more frequent. Given the timing, it seems they just would rather not deal with the public outcry when they don’t act in the public interest.

Now comes the possibly scarier part. Since at least 2005 when a private contractor put an 8” hole in the landfill’s liner we have known that the liner has leaked. Liners in landfills do that a lot too, despite what they say about how safe they make everything. Holes happen, are not uncommon, and can be repaired.

But in the last year, Republic self-reported to TDEC that the liner had been compromised. What exactly “compromised” means is unclear. Whether Republic does repair holes or TDEC enforces the need to is also unclear. And we have the aluminum dross chemical “fire” and the actual fire because of improper cover of the too much trash they accept. (Cited in court documents filed by the City of Murfreesboro in 2021)

RS/BFI are supposed to keep track of where all these things are and keep them separate but who knows if they have or if the compromised liner means they are no longer separated.  All of these together create a very risky, dangerous situation in my opinion. One that needs further investigation. And one that means Republic/BFI are untrustworthy and should not be allowed to expand under any circumstances. 

Republic/BFI agreed in the original contract to abide by all state, local and federal laws. They consistently violate them and some which can’t be fixed in the 30 days said violations are supposed to be resolved. And now Republic says the county has violated the contract (Letter to the County Commission and Mayor In June 2022). I would think that their continued violations of regulations, and disregard for the health and well being of the citizens of the county are arguably violations on their part. And TDEC needs to hold them accountable, and when we vote in August we need to vote for people who will hold them accountable too.

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