With Labor Day has come the end of summer, and that BP spill in the Gulf, so dominant during the summer news cycle, may already seem like ages ago. But for some residents in the Gulf States, the oil spill is now literally in their backyards. All that oily debris and endless strands of boom have got to go somewhere.
As many as 50,000 tons of waste that resulted from the Deepwater Horizon fiasco has been taken to incinerators and landfills. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently monitoring nine landfills in the region that are supposedly equipped to handle the onslaught of waste.
One site is the Chastang Landfill, 25 miles north of Mobile, Alabama. Like several other dump sites, the landfill is smack in the middle of an area where a high percentage of the residents are minorities. Residents are already expressing concerns about the contaminants that will collect at these landfill sites and seep into the soil. Naturally, the landfill’s owner, Waste Management, insists that any contaminants are the result of metals naturally embedded in the soil, and says it is undertaking tests.
The Chastang Landfill is not the largest recipient of the Gulf’s oil spill waste, and is well-run compared to other facilities in Alabama and Louisiana, some of which which have been citied for the leakage of excessive amounts of contaminants. But all of these landfill sites share one thing in common—residents living nearby did not have a say in the matter. BP submitted its waste plan in June to the EPA, which quickly approved it. Then BP hired private contractors to haul the tons of contaminated sand, oil-coated boom, tar balls, and other waste that had washed ashore.
The EPA does not even consider this waste hazardous, even though it is loaded with benzene and other toxic chemicals. BP, therefore, can simply leave such waste at landfills that were not built to contain hazardous waste. So in the future, expect these landfills, already coping with issues ranging from methane to arsenic—to leak additional chemicals into local groundwater. And who would pay for such a cleanup? Certainly not BP.
The Gulf of Mexico is similar to natural disasters in that its true cost will never be fully quantified. Costs—social and fiscal–such as waste disposal and ground contamination may not be known for years. And like natural disasters, the tab will be picked up by us—the taxpayers. The greatest burden, however, will be on the locals who live near these sites and had little say in how the waste would be stored and treated once brought from the shore.