Scarboro Landfill, aka Harford County Waste Disposal Center, claims to be a "sanitary landfill" but in reality it is nothing more than a dangerous dump.
Harford County's landfill is a long-time poorly run county municipal dump in Maryland being allowed to triple its size from its current 42 acres to 118 acres and a staggering elevation of over 600 feet. Located 7 miles north of Bel Air, MD, it sits within feet of Deer Creek, a supposedly protected tributary of the Susquehanna River and the Chesapeake Bay.
Poor oversight by the Maryland Department of Environment and Harford County for 15 years until late 2008 allowed the landfill to become the dump it was back in the 1960's, with most of the current the open cell laying as unburied raw garbage and chemicals (aerial photo) piled on itself year after year. There is a stream called Sulphur Run encircling the dump which collects leachate (garbage juice) and flows directly into Deer Creek. There are identified underground contamination plumes spreading into the water table and poisoning wells. Residents have suffered illnesses and deaths from Scarboro's pollution.
In 2008 MDE, under pressure from area residents and concerned county citizens, began to look at landfill conditions and found their concerns to be valid. In May 2008, county taxpayers paid approximately $60,000 for a report from Maryland Environmental Services which found so many operating violations that 57 recommendations were made. Some of these have been addressed in improved daily operations, however the most serious of the problems, the steep slopes and leachate breaks from so many years of poor operation have not been addressed at all. These are the most serious problems and the true cause of permanent environmental damage.
TheMES Report can be seen here in its entirety as a public service.
Documentary of violations from June '08 shows the appalling conditions: Note as of July 2009 there have been some improvments to procedures at the top of the landfill which is now almost completely full. However, steps have not been taken to remedy the conditions created by 15 years of neglect such as steep slopes, erosion and continued liner and leachate breaks.
Expansion concerns and dangers
Maryland Department of Environment looks at citizen concerns
What solutions do citizens untimately recommend?
Expansion concerns and dangers
The poorly planned expansion was first identified as dangerous by Ira P. May, senior geologist for May Governmental Services and former senior geologist at the U.S. Army Environmental Center. The expansion plans were secretly railroaded through without citizen knowledge. Although a mere handfull of area residents, some whom live within 200 ft. of cells were informed in 2002 of a 20-acre northern expansion plan, they were blindsided by an additional 48-acre southern expansion plan in 2006 which puts cells within feet of Deer Creek, as well as more than doubling the northern expansion from what they were told.
Expansion plans clearly violate regulations described on EPA's landfill page. In fact, the bulleted list representing the terms of 40 CFR Part 258 (Subtitle D of RCRA) shows the Scarboro Landfill expansion plans and current operating practices to violate almost all of them. The bulk of the expansion is to be built on top of an old unlined dump. There is a major gas pipeline within 80 ft. of a planned cell. The entire dump sits on wetlands and the southern expansion is in a flood plain. A consent agreement signed by MDE and Harford County lists regulations the dump must abide by. Yet the county honors almost none of the regulations and for many years have enjoyed a cozy relationship with MDE which streamlined passage of the expansion permit.
A group of residents tried legal avenues to stop MDE from granting the expansion permit, but realized after five months and nearly $10,000 invested of their own money that their funds were no match for the limitless taxpayer dollars county and state attorneys were using against them. These residents were not wealthy people and the legal expenses devastated them until they could not continue, even though the hearing judge made it clear they had a valid case. back
The large areas of open trash long persisting on the majority of the landfill emits high amounts of methane and other toxic gases. Jan 08 photos clearly show the extent of the open trash, i.e 80% of the entire landfill, or the part management doesn't believe is visible. Methane gas is a greenhouse gas 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Landfill gases travel freely for great distances into the environment. They are known to cause cancer and birth defects. Open trash attracts rodents, insects,vermin and buzzards that spread disease. These conditions are in violation of 40 CFR Part 258 (Subtitle D of RCRA).
There are known area deaths from well poisoning. The state health department has identified contaminated wells nearby. The county claims to have purchased all properties with well contamination but this is not true. There are residents who are unable to drink their water yet must bathe in it. Recent testing has shown the detection of MTBE, a known byproduct of landfills to be spreading to an area not previously contaminated along homes on Sandy Hook Rd. nearly a mile from the current cell. Workers and visitors to the landfill are exposed to dangerous and unsafe conditions at the facility. There were 2 deaths within a 13 month period in 2006 to 2007 of county employees, one from chemical poisoning and one from a fall into an improper recycling trailer. back
Maryland Dept of Environment looks at citizen concerns
MDE failed in the past to enforce its own operating permit while documenting persistent violations. Yet they streamlined passage of the expansion permit and dismissed citizen concerns of public health and safety. MDE continued for years to back and make excuses for the facility's long-time poor management. However it may be noted that top officials under the direction of Secretary Shari Wilson met with concerned citizens and residents and agreed to take another look at landfill conditions. Citizens feel it was the validation of their concerns by some officials that contributed to the commissioning of the following report:
Maryland Environmental Services released a report from a study costing $46,000 consisting of 107 pages full of operation and safety violations. They listed 56 recommendations to the county. Although the county states it plans to satisfy the recommendations, it is noted that no outline of remedial plans have been presented to citizens and these violations have no effect on expansion plans which are continuing full force regardless.back
Area residents have shouldered the burden of this dump for 50 years and the county wants to assure it will exist another 50-plus years at colossal proportion. The acquistion of the dump into an already long-populated rural residential area and all subsequent expansion was done in secrecy to area residents who were once promised by county officials at a public county council meeting that the dump would close when full and never expand. Transcripts of this entire council meeting have disappeared from county records.
This dump will be an unmaintainable financial and environmental burden to all future generations. Most nearby residents do not get tax credits yet their property values are drastically deteriorating. Some residents with known well contamination receive tax credits that don't cover the cost of bottled drinking water. They wash in contaminated water. Other residents with contaminated wells receive no tax credits. Their taxes have increased exponentially as if they were in a desirable location. Harford County is draining these residents of their money and health and these effects are rapidly multiplying for no other reason than pure greed. The dump is a money-making operation. This is called Environmental injustice and it is illegal, see EPA Environmental Justice. back
What do citizens recommend to solve this problem ultimately?
Ultimately, expansion should be stopped. There is talk of plans to enlarge the county's incineration facility at Aberdeen Proving Ground although bids have been taken for construction, plans seem stalled. It is recommended that the county builds this incinerator and after completion, that a growing trend in this country called landfill reclamation be initiated. This is where the existing cell is dug up, the materials recycled, and instead of expansion, the same hole can be re-used with better controls and in a safer manner. In this case, the same cell could also be better constructed. Although it would require planning to deal with hazards while digging up the cell, the benefits far outweigh the current and long-term dangers from the dump.
Successful reclamation projects such as in Florida, California, and as close to Harford County as Lancaster, PA. should be part of Harford County's plans instead of incessant land-grabbing for more cells. back