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What should I know to discuss the regulatory requirements for and issues concerning siting new MSWLFs within a political boundary with my learners?
People's attitudes about municipal landfills varies with their knowledge and experience with them. Certainly, landfill facilities are a necessity for populated areas. But there are both real and perceived threats resulting from their existence in the landscape. In an effort to address the threats, regulatory bodies at all levels of government have studied landfills and proposed and finalized rules that govern their siting and construction, operation, and closure.
The rules are easily located in federal regulations, state regulations, and local ordinances. A more difficult set of standards to locate are those the affected public think should play a role in the siting of new landfills in or near their communities. Members of a potentially-affected community will undoubtedly be concerned about potential exposure to toxic chemicals disposed at a facility and infectious diseases that may result from vermin attracted to the accumulating waste. Public health is a valid concern as is environmental health. Studies have shown that improperly sited and/or constructed landfills leak hazardous gases, hazardous liquids, or both. Impacts on local groundwater, surface water, enclosed structures, and wildlife have been observed. Equally valid are the property rights, environmental justice, and quality of life concerns. Decreased property values, neighborhood isolation, and increased road traffic, litter, odors, dusts, and flies are all expressed by citizens that attend public planning meetings when the need for a new landfill arises.
The local waste management authority must then site and operate new landfills in compliance with regulations and ordinances but also with a responsibility to and under the scrutiny of their constituency: the residents and property owners within their political boundary. Not surprisingly, the diversity of the constituency and the complexity of the scientific and legal issues involved can make landfill siting difficult.
This exercise is designed to reveal the difficulty in siting a landfill in a way that satisfies all parties involved. It is critical that your learners understand the need to consider risk and trade-offs in the management of environmental hazards. They will see that locations which offer the best protection for groundwater or surface water natural resources might raise valid concerns from residents regarding property value or environmental justice.