SPEECH OF WILLIAM SANJOUR, FORMER CHIEF OF THE HAZARDOUS WASTES ASSESSMENT AND TECHNOLOGY BRANCH OF EPA, TO THE RED ROSE ALLIANCE ON MAY 6, 1982
I would like to first tell you who I am. My background is in physics and I have spent many years working in the Defense Department and in industry. Rather late in my life I went to work for EPA in 1972. In 1974, I joined the Hazardous Waste Division in EPA (which was very new at the time) . I was head of the hazardous Waste Assessment and Technology Branch at EPA with about 20 people and a budget of tens of millions of dollars. The purpose of this branch basically was to study the problems of hazardous waste. There had been a certain amount of interest on the part of Congress on the problem of hazardous waste and we were given the budget and the responsibility to define what the problem is and what the solutions are. I had a rather good staff, a lot of money to spend and a lot of time to spend it. We spent a lot of money -- your money -- learning what the problems were and what the solutions are. And basically I am here today to give you. the benefit of what it is that your money has bought and paid for -- the knowledge and the information we gained.
First of all we found out that most hazardous wastes -- and by hazardous wastes I am talking about poisonous industrial wastes for the most part although we are also including wastes which are flammable or corrosive -- most hazardous wastes in the United States (something like 98%) are disposed of in landfills. That is a euphemism for a hole in the ground in which you pour wastes. That is how most wastes are disposed. A great deal of these wastes -- the majority of it -- is not biodegradable. In other words the bacteria that are present in the earth do not break down these materials as they do ordinary human waste. Nature doesn't biodegrade poisonous wastes because the wastes poisons the bugs that cause biodegradation. Now wastes which are not biodegradable are therefore just sitting in a hole in the ground into which rain pours in and seeps out because the ground is porous. Soluble wastes dissolve in water. Insoluble wastes are carried by the water. In other words they eventually get out of that hole in the ground. That is a basic fact, as sure as water flows downhill. When you put wastes in the ground, it will get out. It will get into the ground water, which most people around here drink I understand. It will, in heavy rain conditions, pour over the surface, just as with a bathtub when it runs over. Gaseous wastes will come up through the ground and enter the air. Burying waste in the ground is not disposal, it is merely slow transportation.
We paid a lot of money to learn that and that is a fact. It is very heavily documented by lots of research. I brought along a document to read to you which summarizes that. This is a statement in the Federal Register which is the official publication of the U S. government and where official announcements are published. Here is the statement by the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. This basically summarizes a lot of this research:There is good theoretical and empirical evidence that hazardous constituents which are placed in land disposal facilities will very likely migrate from the facility into the broader environment. This may occur in several years even many decades after placement of the wastes in the facility, but data and scientific prediction indicate that in most cases even with the application of best available land disposal technology (let me read that again) even with the application of best available land disposal technology it will occur eventually -- it will occur eventually.Now we hear a great deal about secure landfills, lined landfills. What do these actually do? It is quite true that when you line a landfill it certainly slows down the rate of seepage, but it doesn't stop it -- it merely slows it down. Which means that instead of the wastes coming out quickly over a period of a few years, it may take decades. It just postpones it into the future. The more you line a landfill the more you are postponing leakage into the future. Furthermore there is no way to predict how far into the future you are going to postpone it.
What then, is the advantage of putting liners -- clay liners, membrane liners -- in landfills?. Well it has a lot of advantage to politicians. The chief advantage to them is that the more lining you put in the further into the future you put the catastrophe and by the time the catastrophe occurs they have retired to Barbados and living off their yachts -- so it is a great advantage to them.
It is a great advantage to the people who generate the waste and dispose of it, because if it takes thirty years before it comes out, it is very hard to find out who put it there, the records are gone, the responsibilities are all diffuse and nobody knows who caused the problem. So it is very good for disposers.
Is it good for the community? Well in fact it is the worst thing for a community to have a secure landfill -- to delay the inevitable. If it is inevitable then the best thing for the community is for it to happen soon, quickly, immediately because then you are ready for it, you are waiting for it, the people who put the waste there are known, you can sue them. The politicians who let the catastrophe happen are there, you can vote them out of office. But if it gets postponed into the future - twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years -- by then you have forgotten it is there, you have built your playgrounds on top of the site, you have built your schools there, you have built houses along side and then you get hit with it -- it is much worse.
Now, why don't liners work? I mean everybody -- theoreticians and engineers all say how marvelous liners are. There are dozens of reasons why liners don't work. We probably know only a few of them. First of all, when you line a landfill, it settles. You know just as when you build a house the basement settles. You get settlement cracks. Right! You go into the basement and there is a big crack -- it is the same thing with lining a landfill. Several inches displacement and the water goes right through the cracks. In addition to that the materials that you put into a hazardous waste landfill -- remember, this isn't garbage, these are very nasty chemicals -- it eats the liner, it dissolve it. It dissolves the glues that bind the separate sections of the liners. It dissolve clays. There are many scientific studies on this -- I am not winging it. I can show you the articles which show that all of these things do in fact happen. It may sound funny, but even gophers and moles and other animals go through the liners.
In addition, to keep a landfill secure, you have to cover it after you are through with it. You must cap it with a layer of clay or asphalt in order to keep the water from going into it. Well that cap can be penetrated in many different ways. In addition to people building houses, people coming there and scooping up the land to use for topsoil, or for road material; you have natural occurrences, like trees. I mean how do you stop the trees from growing roots which penetrate through the soil and break up the cap.
So in fact, while lots of people are very good at demonstrating in laboratories that lining materials can work, it is not a laboratory out there. There are all kinds of things going on out in the real world that aren't happening in laboratories. And the only way to test wether or not a secure landfill is going to be secure is to run it out there. For example, you wouldn't go on an airplane that has never been tested, just because some engineer says it works, especially if the engineer has been building airplanes that have always been falling down. Just remember, we have a whole history of landfills that don't work. There has never been a landfill yet that has worked. And the very people who have been building them all of these years are now telling you: "We know how to build them now so that they will work". Well fine, maybe they do, but test it! Test it the same way you test an airplane before you let passengers fly in it. You don't just carry passengers on an airplane without proving its airworthiness first -- the FAA wouldn't let you. I mean they have all kinds of elaborate test procedures. You have to fly it for many years under many different circumstances with a great deal of stress before they will let passengers on it. So if anybody tells you he knows how to build a secure landfill, say fine -- test it. Test it the same way you would test a new concept for a bridge, or a new concept for an airplane. Prove it! Prove that it works. And how do you test a hazardous waste landfill? Well I know of no other way except to run it for 20 or 30 years. Then if it works you can talk about it being secure. But all the science and technology of today says no one knows how to build a secure landfill.
Does that mean that we don't know what to do with our hazardous wastes? No it doesn't. Another thing we learned with our studies -- at your expense -- is that there are many alternative's to handling hazardous wastes besides landfilling it. You can, for example, change the processes which produce the wastes in the first place. Some people's wastes can be used by other people as part of their manufacturing process. You can processes the wastes chemically. You can detoxify some wastes biologically. You can incinerate wastes. You can degrade them by temperature by ways other than incineration. You can treat wastes to make them inert. In fact one of the studies we (EPA) conducted came out with a two volume handbook of all the many alternatives to dispose of hazardous wastes. There must have been several dozen. There is not one single waste that is being produced that cannot be handled in some way other than by landfill. None! I am not talking about Blue Sky technology. I am talking about off the shelf technology. Everything I have mentioned to you are examples of things that are in fact presently being done for some wastes.
So why isn't more of it being done? Because it is cheaper to put it in a hole in the ground. Who is going to spend the extra nickel to do it right when he doesn't have to? Why should industry do it? They are not going to do it the right way until they have to face the true cost of doing it the wrong way. They will not stop until they are stopped from doing it. Then they will do it the right way. Does this mean that the prices of our goods are going to skyrocket as a result of stopping landfilling? Well EPA has studied that too! And all of these things that I am talking about are all well known in studies conducted long ago by EPA. I recall an example being mentioned by someone that if the manufacturers of polyester pants would dispose of their wastes properly, it would add a nickel to the price of a pair of pants. We are not talking about the kind of costs which can bankrupt a society. We are talking about really relatively trivial costs. It may look like a lot of money to any one company, but when you compare it to the total cost to society -- and I will be discussing later what the costs are -- the cost is trivial.
Well now, these were the kind of studies we did and these are the kind of conclusions we reached. As a result of them, in 1976, Congress passed a law which required EPA to write regulations to control hazardous wastes. Interestingly in spite of the fact there was a very much of an anti-regulatory climate then -- not just now, it was also then -- this law, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, passed both houses of Congress almost unanimously. The evidence for the need for this law there was so overwhelming, there was hardly any opposition, not even by industry. However, there was one clear outspoken opponent to the passage of this law in the Congressional hearings. This was the Administrator of EPA. EPA asked Congress not to pass this law. In spite of that it was passed. Not to be outdone, EPA damn near refused to administer and fund it after it was passed. In spite of that, we tried to proceed as best we could in administering the law without much support from the Agency. Then came Love Canal. The very catastrophes we had been talking about. We had been pointing out to Congress and to the people all the damages that hazardous wastes can cause -- we had many case studies -- but for some reason it never caught the public's attention. There was something about Love Canal that the press loved and all of a sudden it became an overnight sensation and all the press picked up on it. (Pardon me, my press colleagues here, but the press are really a flock of geese -- where one of them goes they all go.) So all of a sudden Love Canal became the hottest story in America. And hazardous waste suddenly came to the forefront and the horrors of hazardous wastes became very clear. When Lois Gibbs got up and talked about the 22 women that she knew who were pregnant of whom only 4 women delivered normal births -- the rest were either miscarriages or abnormalities -- children with double rows of teeth and cleft palates and everything else -- when that horror finally came clear and the country and Congress finally focused on the hazardous waste issue, what was the reaction of EPA? The reaction was to suppress us, we who were writing hazardous waste regulations, to prevent that from happening. We, were actually told to stop writing the regulations because it was giving people the impression that there was a problem! And they wanted to play down the fact that there was any problem.
Well, it was about that time that EPA and I kind of parted company officially. Several lawsuits was brought by several environmental organizations against EPA and I am proud to say that I was instrumental in having these people sue EPA. A lot of information was leaked to the press about how EPA was dragging its feet on the regulations. As a result of the suits the Court ordered EPA to meet certain deadlines to get out regulations to regulate these facilities. In spite of that EPA missed all their deadlines. And they are still missing the deadlines. Many years, 5 or 6 years have elapsed and they are still in defiance of the Court.
Landfill regulations were in fact proposed several times and then withdrawn by the Agency. They were withdrawn once by the Carter administration and they were withdrawn once by the Reagan administration. In fact EPA was so much in the pocket of industry that the propaganda that EPA started putting out is that hazardous waste landfills are okay, if only you people who live next to hazardous waste landfills would stop complaining about it -- it is everybody's problem. You all share in it. You all use the goods produced by these companies. You all wear the polyester pants. Therefore, you should all put up with the hazardous wastes and if you would only stop complaining the problem would go away. This is the most insidious kind of propaganda I have ever heard Basically they are saying that the victim is the problem. You know if only the Jews under Hitter had stopped complaining there would have been no Jewish problem in Germany. The problem would go away if you people would stop complaining. This was the basis of EPA's propaganda. Propaganda films were made -- bought and paid for with your money -- which basically tried to get this message across.
Well EPA never has, even to this day, come out with regulations for hazardous waste landfills. Which brings me back to your point, Mr. Chairman, of that EPA report which said this is a good place for a hazardous waste landfill. Since EPA has never come out with any standards of what is or isn't a good site for a landfill, how can these gentlemen have possibly judged that this was a good place for one? There are no standards on which to judge it. EPA is still under the Court order to come out with those standards and they still haven't. Federal Judge Gisselle gave the EPA administrator a final deadline and the administration appealed it to a higher court -- so now it is in the Appellate Court. This has been going on for something like 5 or 6 years.
However, EPA has come out with standards for existing landfills like your Lancaster site. EPA does have standards for existing landfills and let me review for your benefit what those standards are or do or more to the point, what they do not do.
First of all there are no standards against pollution. No standards against pollution. There is no amount of pollution either into the air or into the ground that this landfill can emit that violates any standard put out by EPA. To illustrate that point, you have heard. about all of the air pollution problems they have in Los Angeles County with all of the heavy industry they have there. Well, in fact the biggest single air polluter in Los Angeles County is a hazardous waste landfill. With very few exceptions I would venture to guess that every single hazardous waste landfill in America is polluting ground water. Our studies demonstrate that. We have made random selections of landfills and it is very hard to find one that isn't. So with the current standards, no amount of pollution that they put out is, illegal. In fact the conditions that brought about Love Canal -- the way the wastes were disposed of, the way the houses were allowed to be there -- those conditions are not illegal even today. In other words Love Canal is not illegal under EPA's regulations. Love Canal could have existed and passed every single EPA regulation. If you have a hazardous waste landfill it is not illegal, for example, if you have a well on it to put pure poison down that well and if you have a neighbor living 10 feet away who is drinking out of that well -- that is not illegal. And if you know you are poisoning his well and you are not telling him about it, that is not illegal. And if the neighbor dies from your poison, that is not a violation any EPA regulation!
If EPA finds out about it, there is no regulation that requires the person who is pouring the poison down there to stop doing it. There is no regulation that says he has to stop. There is no regulation that says he has to clean up anything. (I have on my notes that there is no liability insurance provision, however they just reinstated that.)
As to the kind of people who operate a landfill -- you probably have laws in most states about the kind of people who operate liquor stores and the like, they have to be of good character, convicted felons are not allowed to operate certain kinds of establishments. Well here we have hazardous waste landfills which are very often. run by gangsters and organized crime. There are absolutely no qualifications in the EPA regulations on who can or cannot own a hazardous waste landfill. You can find a man who has been convicted 30 times for poisoning his neighbors from a landfill and he is allowed to operate one.
Once the hazardous waste landfill closes, 30 years after it closes, you are allowed to build playgrounds and golf courses on top of them. At any time you are allowed to build houses right along side of them. This is exactly the conditions at Love Canal.
Now there is a further provision that 5 years after a hazardous waste facility closes (this is a recent act of Congress) a citizen, cannot sue the operator of the facility for damages -- for any damages he may suffer. Instead the government has set up a fund where the government can be sued. You cannot sue the owner or the operator of the site. This is the only case I have ever heard of where a citizen's rights to sue for damages under common law has been rescinded by Act of Congress. I have never heard of any such thing before.
How did this get to be passed? Well in fact the chief lobbyist for the National Solid Waste Management Association lobbied Congress for 3 years to get that provision passed. That was the number one priority for his association -- to remove the liability from the hazardous waste operator, so that he cannot be sued, so he cannot be held responsible for what he does. Who does the National Solid Waste Management Association represent? The Institute of Chemical Waste Management and the National Solid Waste Management Association are basically the hazardous waste operators and there are about a dozen names on the list and here is one -- IU Conversion Systems, Inc. In other words the lobbyist for IU Conversion Systems, among other companies, has lobbied Congress very intensely to remove the liability of the company 5 years after it closes the landfill.
Now, I understand that you all have been told about how this IU system is supposed to render wastes non-hazardous and how safe the landfill it is and how it can't leach and it can't damage the environment. If that's the case why was it their number one priority to get themselves off the hook? If it works, why do they have to get off the hook?
Let me tell you how hazardous waste facilities -- commercial hazardous waste facilities -- are generally run. Usually what a corporation does for each landfill it owns is to organize a separate corporation which is solely owned by the parent corporation. The separate corporations then pay the parent corporation a management fee. It usually has no assets because the management fee eats up all the income of the company. Now, if while it is operating they run into any trouble and anyone tries to sue them, the subsidiary goes bankrupt. It has no assets. You can't collect. And furthermore you can't get to the parent company because that is the law. That is the typical operation of a commercial hazardous waste landfill. I suggest you try to find out whether the landfills operating in your area are operating that way too. If they are, you are going to have to ask yourself a question: Why is it so important for them not to be held responsible? The key to this whole thing is responsibility. What we have basically is a network setup -- an elaborate network set up -- to get everybody off the hook except you. You are the guys on the hook. Everyone working for years to convince Congress to get themselves off the hook. Why? Because they all know bad it is!
Hazardous waste facilities cannot get long term insurance. No one will insure them. There is no insurance for hazardous waste facilities. Therefore, Congress passed an Act that the people of the United States will insure for hazardous waste facilities, since no insurance company will.
Very often hazardous waste facilities have criminal connections. Historically, that has been the case. Very often local politicians and even national politicians have been given financial interests in hazardous waste facilities. Under EPA regulations these facilities monitor their own operations, in other words they depend on what is called the honor system to determine whether or not they are working right. There is very little government inspection. Most of the monitoring is done by the facility operator himself. Therefore it is up to this sterling character who runs this landfill to report to you that he is polluting your environment.
As I've said, there is no post-closure liability on the part of the operator, in other words once he closes up he is no longer responsible. The responsibility is taken over by the federal government and a fund that is set up under then Superfund program that is contributed to by the users of the landfill. A little bit of simple arithmetic will show that the fund could probably hardly take care of a dozen landfills. It is inevitable that almost every hazardous waste landfill in America is going to leak and it is going to require many millions of dollars to clean up which comes up to tens of billions of dollars if you add them all up. This fund can't come anywhere near that kind of clean up costs. So once again it is you who are going to be stuck with those costs.
What if we give the landfill owners the benefit of the doubt? Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that everything they have been telling us about hazardous waste landfills is true. What then do you have? First of all you have a great big hole in the ground with millions of tons of poison sitting in it forever. It is never going to go away and it is never going to become non-poisonous. Millions of tons of poison sitting in this hole in the ground. It is going to require -- and this is using the landfill operators own case -- it is going to require perpetual maintenance to see to it that the poison stays where it is put. -- perpetual! From now until the end of the world. Now what kind of maintenance are we talking about? You have to keep trees off the top of it or any kind of vegetation because the roots will penetrate the cap and allow water in it. Every couple of years you have got to recover that cap. You have got to resurface it, like resurfacing a highway. You may occasionally have to dig deep down into the ground to repair the structure of the wall. You are going to have to monitor it perpetually -- monitor the ground water -- take samples, do analysis. It is very similar to the kind of maintenance that you have to do for a highway or for a bridge where you have crew of people who are perpetually maintaining it. If you don't do that, the stuff is going to come out.
You know what is happening right now with tight budgets. Highways and bridges are going to pot because municipalities cut their maintenance budget when the money gets tight. Right! That is why you have all of these big pot holes in the roads. What is going to happen with the hazardous wastes? At least bridges and highways are used. What is going to happen with this great big acreage out there 10, 15 or 20 years from now? Are your politicians going to continue --are you going to continue to pay taxes to have a crew of a dozen people perpetually maintain those things when you don't use it? Of course not, that will be the first budget cut. So even if you take these people at their face value, if you accept every single thing that they said the concept is absurd. To have thousands of tons of poison with huge crews of people maintaining it perpetually -- forever -- and at your expense by the way. Let me quote a paragraph from California. California, when it comes to the environment and hazardous waste in particular, is probably the most sensible state around. They, along with several other states, are banning hazardous waste landfills, -- New York and New Jersey among them [audience laughter]. Yes, New Jersey is phasing out hazardous waste landfills. New Jersey of all places. Here is what California says about why it is getting out of the land disposal business.The cost of securing or cleaning up past disposal sites are rapidly approaching such a magnitude that government and industry together cannot afford them. Unless we permanently detoxify or encapsulate the most toxic and long lived waste we are risking future clean up costs that make land disposal a very bad bargain.Lets look at the effect of hazardous waste landfills on near-by residents. They know the landfill is always there -- they are always aware of it -- they are never sure what it is doing to them -- it makes for a great deal of communal anxiety and anxiety itself brings about diseases. This in most communities near landfills. They will have many health complaints which may or may not be medically supportable. The very fact that the landfill is there, smelling and taking in all these horrible chemicals unnerves a community and all kinds of diseases real and imaginary pop up everywhere because people are just constantly aware of it. And that doesn't make life very pleasant.
Another phenomenon you have to be concerned about is if and when there is some calamity which receives a lot of national publicity. What if the whole flock of the press starts trooping down on the Lancaster landfill as they did at Love Canal and picturesque Lancaster ends up on the cover of Time or Newsweek as the latest hazardous waste catastrophe?
That is what happened to Niagara Falls and it just about ruined the tourist business. No one wants to go to Niagara Falls anymore because Niagara Falls is where they have all those toxic waste dumps. There are houses that are 50 miles away from Love Canal that have nothing to do with Love Canal whose real estate values are just as depressed as if they were right next to Love Canal. There are businesses in downtown Niagara Falls that depend on tourists and they are depressed and they are nowhere near Love Canal. Niagara Falls has become a national joke and a national -- you know it as the armpit of America -- and who the hell wants to spend their honeymoon in the armpit of America. That can happen here. Some bad publicity and some leaking landfills and all of a sudden Lancaster county is the armpit of America. And what does that do to your real estate and what does that do to your tourist business? It doesn't matter if you are close to the landfill -- that will hurt you no matter what.
Well, I am getting rather tired of talking and I don't know how to end gracefully so let me just end it and ask, the chairman if he will entertain any questions?
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