Environment

As Charah also discontinues leachate aerosolization, HB 576 is up for an override vote today

Leachate aerosolization can spray thousands of gallons of wastewater per minute The contaminated particles supposedly fall back onto the landfill, but environmental advocates and scientists are concerned they could drift downwind. (Screenshot from Kelly Houston’s leachate aerosolization website)

This post has been updated with comments from DEQ and a correction to the use for the coal ash at Brickhaven.

For months, environmental advocates, scientists and concerned citizens told lawmakers that House Bill 576, aka “garbage juice in a snowblower” legislation, was a bad idea.

Now, two companies that have tested the leachate aerosolization technology agree. Charah joins Republic Services in withdrawing from an aerosolization test program. And House Bill 576, vetoed by Gov. Cooper and scheduled for an override vote today, could be headed for the landfill.

Sponsored by Rep. Jimmy Dixon, a Republican from Duplin County, the measure would require the NC Department of Environmental Quality to approve leachate aerosolization at lined landfills. The measure was clearly tailored for the system’s inventor, Kelly Houston of Cornelius, who was a major donor to Sen. Trudy Wade, another supporter of the bill. However, Houston provided no peer-reviewed scientific studies proving that spraying contaminated landfill leachate into the air was safe — the technology is based on that used in chemical warfare — for those living downwind or for waste management workers.

DEQ had approved permits, which included monitoring and other environmental requirements, for two trial programs: One at the Brickhaven Mine, managed by Charah, and the other at three Republic Services landfills. Republic withdrew from its trial because the technology was “not a viable alternative,” as NCPW reported earlier this week.

Then on Tuesday, Charah notified DEQ that it would not use the technology at the former Brickhaven mine, a lined landfill where coal ash is being reused as fill material.

“Charah does not plan to proceed with the field trial of the leachate evaporation system at Brickhaven at this time.  In the future, we may reconsider the use of this technology if it makes economic sense and does not impact neighbors and the environment,” wrote Norman Divers, director of Engineering, Environmental and Quality at Charah to Ed Mussler, permitting branch supervisor in the Division of Waste Management. “Charah, therefore requests DEQ withdraw any activity regarding the review and approval of the trial request as noted.”

Charah has not yet responded to additional questions from NCPW about the technology’s failure. In two proposals sent to DEQ, Charah referred to the first as “leachate aerosolization,” and the second as “leachate evaporation,” but the methods are essentially the same.

Although during committee hearings on the bill, DEQ said it supported the measure, that endorsement felt tepid. DEQ spokesperson Laura Leonard said the agency supports Governor Cooper’s veto statement, which reads in part: “Scientists, not the legislature, should decide whether a patented technology can safely dispose of contaminated liquids from landfills. With use of the word ‘shall,’ the legislature mandates a technology winner, limiting future advancements that may provide better protection.

Leonard told NCPW that no other companies have requested approval for leachate aerosolization or evaporation systems from the Division of Waste Management. Robeson County has submitted a request for aerosolization, which is under agency review. The Division of Air Quality has also received a request for use of an evaporation system, but not at a landfill.

Dixon told NCPW yesterday that he would have to tally the votes before deciding whether to pursue an override of the governor’s veto. A three-fifths majority is required in both chambers.

The House convenes today at 3 p.m.

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