Water quality concerns landfill neighbors

By Caroline Klapper | Jan 09, 2013
Photo by: Caroline Klapper Wade Francis looks over a fence at the water troughs his cattle drink from. The water is pumped from a well that he is concerned could be contaminated from the now-closed Francis Farm Landfill nearby.

For those who live around the now-closed Francis Farm Landfill, worries over leakage from the landfill contaminating the groundwater have been ongoing for several years.

Although most of the residents in the area have city water, several property owners still use private wells for drinking water or irrigation. Among them are Wade Francis and his son Dennis Francis, who water their cattle herd from a well on their land. Both say they are concerned that they aren’t being kept informed about the results of water testing from the monitoring wells installed on county and private property near the landfill.

“I would like to have some answers,” Dennis said. “They sort of seem like they keep everything secret. They said they’d keep us informed, but they haven’t.”

History

In 2011, the county had a meeting for property owners living near the landfill to share information about the landfill and request permission to test the private wells within a 1,500-foot radius of the county’s property in a proactive effort to protect public health.

Francis Farm Landfill was built in the early 1970s, when state regulations did not require liners or leachate collection systems as they do today. While the landfill was officially closed in 1993, in 2011, groundwater tests from monitoring wells on the southern edge of the landfill showed elevated levels of contaminants, known as volatile organic compounds, or VOCs.

Among the VOCs detected were several chemicals often found in household cleaners and benzene, a toxic chemical known to cause cancer. Such compounds are common in landfills, but the concern was whether the contaminants had moved much beyond the boundaries of county property and if they could cause a public health risk.

Although the county was not required to begin testing private wells during this “assessment monitoring phase,” David Francis, director of the Haywood County Tax Administration office, said county commissioners wanted to do the testing early to make sure there wasn’t a problem.

“County commissioners were very emphatic about getting things done as quickly as possible,” Francis said. “We’re five years ahead of basically where we should be.”

The report from 2011, issued by Bunnell-Lammons Engineering (BLE) and sent out to the six residents with private wells that were tested, stated that the results showed VOCs were not detected in any of the wells except for trace concentrations of bromodicloromethane and chloroform in two wells. However, the concentrations of chemicals in these two wells were not from the landfill, according to BLE.

Bromodicloromethane is a byproduct of water disinfection, typically from chlorine-treated water, and the amount found of the chemical and the chloroform does not pose a health risk, according to the guidelines set by the EPA.

Dr. Kenneth Rudo, state toxicologist with the N.C. Division of Public Health, also examined the test results and said the samples looked good.

“All of the wells are OK for all water uses,” Rudo stated.

Ongoing monitoring

However, the monitoring wells surrounding the landfill are still being tested twice a year to continue checking for any possible spread of contaminants in the groundwater.

So far, Francis said the water testing results have been negative for harmful levels of contaminants, and the water is safe for all uses, including human consumption.

“There’s not been anything there that has alarmed the state — nothing for people to be concerned with,” he said.

But as one of those who could be potentially effected by contaminants in the water, Wade Francis said he hasn’t seen another report stating that the water was still safe since the one from 2011, and he just wants to know what is going on, especially since several new monitoring wells were put in along Raccoon Creek, which runs nearby his property.

“Why can we not find out the results? We’re the ones drinking the water,” he said, adding he requested another test of his private well about five months ago, but he hasn’t heard anything about those results either.

When asked about the results, David Francis confirmed the well was tested and said “those results were negative again.”

A report from BLE was recently sent to Wade Francis stating that "the results show that VOCs were not detected in the well designated Wade Francis Barn and Double Wide. These results were identical to those from the August 2011 sampling event."

While the same trace levels of VOCs were detected in the well designated as Wade Francis House, they were similar to those detected in 2011 and do not present a threat to human health and are not coming from the landfill.

"Mr. (Wade) Francis has requested the county pay for public water, but the testing hasn't warranted that," Francis said, adding the report from the August testing wasn't available until mid-December, which is why they weren't able to share the results sooner.

As for the new monitoring wells, county commissioners approved a request from BLE in November to establish eight new wells as part of the third phase of the assessment monitoring plan for the site. The new wells were estimated to cost $149,000 plus $6,000 for landowners’ right of way fees.

Since November, six new wells have been established “to see if there is more migration off of the (landfill) property,” Francis said.

So far, so good

The wells were established around Raccoon Creek because the hydrologist working on the project believes the creek serves as a natural terrain break, preventing contaminants from spreading underground to the other side.

“The belief is that once you reach the natural break, like the creek is, then that stops there and there’s not going to be migration across the creek,” Francis explained, adding because the creek water is on the surface, it isn’t effected.

To prove that the natural break is working to prevent contaminants from spreading, the new wells were put in place on both sides of the creek, and for now, they will continue to be monitored for problems.

But things are looking good, Francis said.

“It’s becoming clearer and clearer that further testing is not warranted,” he said.

It’s good news, but Wade and Dennis Francis said they and many of their neighbors wonder why they haven’t been kept in the loop so they know they don’t need to worry.

“They should inform everyone that’s got a well on this road,” Wade said.

Dennis agreed and added, “We really want to know what the results are in this water.”

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