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News & Sports

Landfill Leaches

 

Multi-million dollar lawsuit filed against Decatur County;

countersuit filed citing federal environmental violations

 

 

On February 17, 2017 Waste Services of Decatur, LLC. Filed suit in the United States District Court

Western District of Tennessee Jackson Division alleging that Decatur County was in breach of the

Contract to operate the Decatur County Landfill.  Waste Services alleges that Decatur County breached

the contract by failing to provide the free disposal and treatment of the leachate coming out of the

Landfill.  (Leachate is the liquid that drains or “leaches” from a landfill.  It usually contains both dissolved

and suspended materials.)  Waste Services claims that the county’s failure to provide free disposal and

treatment of leachate constitutes a material breach of the contract which allows Waste Services to

terminate the agreement with Decatur County.  The Contract states that the disposal/treatment of

leachate would remain at no cost to the Decatur County Landfill and Waste Services in exchange for

free disposal to Parsons and Decaturville.  (Neither the City of Parsons nor the Town of Decaturville were

parties to the Contract.)  In their suit Waste Services Decatur claims that they are spending

approximately $1,000,000.00 per year to handle the leachate.  Waste Services maintains that they have

operated the Landfill according to generally accepted standards and that they have complied with all

Federal, state, and local laws. 

 

Waste Services claims that the alleged breach of the Agreement gives them the right to terminate the

Agreement and releases Waste Services from any responsibility to perform post closure of the Landfill.

They asked the Court to be released from their bond for closure/post closure and that

Decatur County must post a replacement bond.

 

Waste Services is also asking for damages in the maximum amount permitted.

 

In its answer Decatur County denied that it is in breach of the contract.  Decatur County states that

the contract states that the disposal/treatment of leachate “would remain at no cost to the Decatur

County Landfill and Waste Services for the life of the site, in exchange for free disposal to Parsons and

Decaturville. 

 

In the introduction to Decatur County’s answer the County stated “Beginning in 1997 and continuing

for at least eight more years, Waste Industries and WSD accepted a particularly dangerous special waste

known as “saltcake” or secondary aluminum smelting waste (hereafter “SAS”), commonly referred to as

“aluminum dross”.  Industry typically pays a premium per ton to get rid of it.  The SAS dross came from

Smelters in Columbia and Mount Pleasant, Tennessee.  Waste Industries and WSD also chose to accept

SAS dross collected from air pollution control devices known as “bag house dust.”  These dust bags are

comprised of fine particles and are full of heavy metals.  The SAS dross and bag house dust were known

by industry to chemically react, sometimes violently, with water to produce combustion, flammable

gases, and heat.  The SAS dross and bag house dust also produce copious amounts of ammonia as a

result of the same “exothermic” chemical reaction.  Mixing the SAS waste with other special waste,

combustible material or municipal waste exacerbates the chemical reaction.

 

At some point in 2003, while Parsons was accepting leachate from the Landfill, Parsons’ Wastewater

Treatment facility suffered a major interruption when its “bug” population was killed by the high levels

of ammonia and heavy metals in the leachate coming from the SAS dross.  A healthy bug population is

critical to the wastewater treatment process.  Waste Industries and WSD were well aware that the

wastewater treatments plants at Parsons and Decaturville could not possibly treat leachate from the

Landfill filled with heavy metals and excessive levels of ammonia, as reactive by-products from the

industrial waste.  In fact, the ammonia levels from the leachate were so high in 2003 that the City of

Parsons expressly informed Waste Industries and WSD that it could no longer treat the leachate.  Waste

Industries and WSD had rendered that treatment impossible.

 

Four years later in 2007, Waste Industries and WSD approached Parsons and Decaturville again with

regard to treatment of its leachate, threatening to begin charging for residential pickup.  Parsons

responded that it would agree to treat the leachate once WSD and Waste Industries got their ammonia

levels under control and requested water samples from the Landfill.  Upon information and belief,

neither WSD nor Waste Industries responded to Parsons’ requests nor did they ever charge Parsons

or Decaturville for residential pickup.

 

Now twenty years after the parties entered into the Contract, after WSD and Waste Industries

created the ammonia issues at the Landfill, after ignoring requests by Parsons to get the ammonia levels

under control, and after twenty years of not charging Parsons or Decaturville for residential pickup,

WSD takes the position that it is entitled to terminate the Contract over the leachate disposal costs and

abandon the Landfill.

 

In evaluating what it would inherit if Waste Industries and WSD followed through on recent threats to

abandon the Landfill, the county has discovered that Waste Industries and WSD consistently breached

their contractual obligation to comply with environmental laws, regulations, and the governing permit.

It appears that WSD and Waste Industries have mismanaged the Landfill for so long and to such a great

extent that the SAS waste is believed to be combusting or “cooking” chemically and creating a public

risk. 

 

In sum, WSD is bringing meritless claims of breach against the County as a pretext to abandon a

chemically reactive waste experiment manufactured by its own business decisions and drop it into the

lap of the County, while avoiding and breaching a host of their obligations under the Contract.  WSD

and Waste Industries have created a public health and safety threat in several ways that pose a long-

term financial risk to the County, the community, and surrounding landowners.”

 

In another section of Decatur County’s answer to the suit the County alleges that the ammonia levels

in the leachate at the Landfill exceeded 800 to 1,000 mg/l when Parsons and Decaturville cannot handle

levels above 35 mg/l. 

 

In addressing Waste Industries assertion that it has operated the Landfill in a way that meets all

Federal, State, and local laws Decatur County asserts that this is not the case.  Decatur County states

that WSD has operated the Landfill in such a manner to maximize short-term profits while accumulating

long-term site operational expenses for the County.  Operation of the Landfill has produced cells of

waste leaking into nearby streams and degraded cell covers, allowing high rainfall infiltration producing

leachate in vast amounts full of toxic ammonia, heavy metals, such that it could not be treated by WWT

plants at Decaturville, Parsons or any other comparably sized municipality.  WSD and Waste Industries

repeatedly mixed secondary aluminum smelter waste with combustible municipal waste, contrary

to industry warning against such practice.  WSD compounded the problem by saturating the waste by

recirculating the leachate back into the landfill.  The result is the numerous cells are cooking or

chemically reacting, producing high landfill temperatures and a mix of flammable gases that can’t

be flared off or collected.  Despite warning signs over a decade ago from the ammonia laden leachate,

WSD persisted in taking the SAS and mixing it into the landfill.  WSD caused and created the leachate

problem by taking SAS special waste.  WSD’s claim of breach is of its own making and is being used

as a pretext to abandon the landfill.  WSD seeks to avoid responsibility for an “Open Dump” violating

State and Federal law, which is leaking into nearby streams and groundwater and has caused a public

nuisance with millions in long-term costs.

 

The County cites other examples of Waste Industries violations of environmental laws.  A site

observation in February 2017 showed that the Landfill operator has used a series of surface

streams to carry leaking leachate directly into Buck Branch.  This violates the leachate collection

system as required by state permit.  State regulations require on-site capture and control of leachate.

In another example WSD paid a trucking company, B&T Hauling LLC to haul leachate off-site which was

later found in the Spring of 2016 to be dumped in the yard of a Camden, Tennessee  resident and

at various other locations in violation of civil and criminal statutes prohibiting the illegal dumping of

toxic leachate.  The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation noted that the ammonia

level of the illegally dumped leachate was 1,000 mg/l.  Streams near the Landfill are now devoid of

aquatic life with the exception of worms.

 

When contacted by the News Leader Decatur County Mayor Mike Creasy issued the following

statement:  “The County will defend itself in this lawsuit.  Our primary concern is for the health and

safety of the citizens of this county.  If Waste Industries has not operated this landfill in a

responsible manner, then I believe it should be held accountable and should not be able to just leave

us with a multimillion dollar environmental mess.  Now, it is in the hands of the Court to decide what

will happen.”

 

Waste Services is represented by the Nashville law firm of Bradly, Arant, Boult, and Cummings LLP.

It should be noted that this law firm represented the Town of Decaturville in legal proceedings against

Waste Services.  Decatur County is represented by the Nashville law firm of Sherrard, Roe, Voight &

 

Harbison, PLC.