It was foggy at the shop the other morning, and at my loading site toward the southern end of the county, and on the drive to the dump, which is about midway toward the northern end of the county. Mt. Trashmore itself was shrouded in fog, giving it a rather other-worldly appearance. The fog held the horrible fumes near the ground, whereas they’re usually somewhat dispersed by the near-constant breeze at that height. They burned my eyes and sinuses, and seemed to slightly affect my breathing. I was very thankful that things were running smoothly and that I was out again in a few minutes.
By 10:00, I was back with a second load, and stuck in a long line, near the summit of Mt. Trashmore, on the road to the dumping face in the pit. Eating breakfast as early as I do anymore, I also tend to get hungry again earlier than I used to. The fog had cleared and the breeze was keeping the volatile-smelling fumes down to a tolerable level, so I figured “why not?” So, I pulled a small container of my wife’s homemade chili from a plastic shopping bag, and a chunk of cheddar, a stack of crackers, and a bottle of water from my cooler/lunch box.
With a plastic spoon from a package I’d purchased on one of my back-county trips, I dug into my simple but welcome brunch. Looking out the passenger window, I could see the rolling West Virginia hills as they lay one after the other into blue oblivion. It wasn’t an altogether unpleasant location, if you could ignore the still present (though weakened) fumes, the noise of idling diesel engines and the view out the DRIVER’S window. I’m the kind of fellow who can eat a sandwich while taking a break from shoveling cow manure, so it wasn’t a problem for me. My wife makes good chili, and my repast was delicious.
As I was eating, crows, Canada geese, wild turkeys, and pigeons searched the grassy fields of the “reclaimed” slopes for bugs for their own brunch, and grit for their craw. Meanwhile, turkey vultures lazily sailed the thermals above the off-gassing mountain of clay-covered refuse, giving the scene a certain grace and peacefulness. (I wondered if they were catching a buzz up there.) The company that owns the landfill brags that they have 17,000 acres across the nation for wildlife, although they won’t let you hunt, fish, camp, hike or do bird-watching there.
I was glad that the critters were getting use from the grasslands, rather than scavenging the dump, although I’m not sure that anything they found there would be much safer than anything on the dump face. That thought had no more than crossed my mind when a short period of inactivity occurred at the dump face. Suddenly, every pigeon, crow and buzzard descended on the dump face in a frenzy of feeding on items that would gag most dogs. I couldn’t help but wonder if they weren’t ingesting some poisons along with their “food.” They’re like most of us, I suppose, willing to chance bad but easy food over good food that requires more effort. I hate it when animals act like people. I noticed the geese and turkeys kept at hunting more healthy things back in the grass. Good for them!
I had to wonder just what sort of fumes I was smelling since methane, what should be the predominate gas here, has no odor. When discussing it with the guru, he had this to say: “Most likely it is a mix of ammonia and/or hydrogen sulfide and what they call NMOCs (non-methane organic compounds) which come from decomposition of the garbage. Too, around here, who knows what chemicals have been or are being dumped in the landfill? The methane and NMOCs are volatile. Ammonia and hydrogen sulfide and NMOCs smell and can be hard on the eyes. NMOCs come from trash such as household cleaning products, materials containing paints, painted materials, various adhesives like from the bottoms of trashed carpeting, tiles, etc., and other items including certain plastics, along with biological decomposition of organic objects and compounds into various gasses.” I hadn’t mentioned that sludge from drilling in Marcellus shale is mixed with sawdust and dumped there, and that the whole dump smelled like model airplane glue one morning.
There ARE pipes sticking up every 100 yards or so on the “reclaimed” areas and the shop there is heated with gas from the fill. Also, they have their own version of the eternal flame, with a standpipe near the entrance spouting flames 10-25 feet into the air. I don’t know why they don’t compress it and run their trucks with it, unless the mix is just too unpredictable. It seems such a waste not to put it to use.
Speaking of waste, I was negatively impressed by how much stuff is still going to the landfill. The amount of new and used lumber taken there is unbelievable to an ex-sawmill man like me. Also, I saw a surprising amount of metal and recyclable plastic there. With lumber prices what they are, I think there should be some sort of clearing house where wood scrap is brought and people can come in for free, or a SMALL fee and get materials for their projects and hobbies. Metal can be sold already, of course. Plastic? Well, there’s going to have to be some sort of financial incentive, negative or positive, for that to work. One thing that REALLY got me was the two cubic yards of compressed bundles of what appeared to be new, unused blanket material still on the bolt. With all the homeless folks we have in the area, and winter coming on……
With all the fumes coming up through the soil, I also wondered if lightning strikes ever set off explosions at landfills. Checking again with the guru, he said there have been a few, though nothing spectacular. Lightning caused dump fires aren’t that uncommon I guess, though.
One thing is for sure, we are a wasteful and unappreciative nation. A visit to the dump will show you that.
Incidentally, I soon finished my brunch, they fixed whatever the holdup was at the dump face, the foul fowl temporarily returned to healthier fair, and the line soon got to moving. Before long, I was back to hauling what would have made good fill somewhere, to a place where it will never be put to any use at all. Hey, it’s the American way! © 2014
For such a large operation, they keep an amazingly small face open, and are constantly hauling dirt and covering recently dumped areas. Click photo to enlarge.