Foreign Trash

Imported trash

A California truck brings trash to the Waste Management Lockwood Landfill outside Reno.

In a state report expected to be released this month, Nevada is poised to become a major importer of western garbage. The state is in discussions to open or expand 5 new landfills to accept that garbage. KNPR's Ky Plaskon reports.

PLASKON: Cheap land, non-existent fees for dumping trash and free permitting of landfills make Nevada attractive for the title of major waste importer according to a draft waste management report to be released this month. State waste management officials have outlined how landfills are cheaper to open in Nevada because the state doesn't require liners in landfills to prevent garbage from seeping into groundwater. Sierra Club Regional Director Carl Zichella complains Nevada's landfill policy makes a few waste managers rich and eventually a lot of people sick.

ZICHELLA: There is so much known about the problems in landfills today, it seems to me that there is no reason to do the least possible thing just so you can become a magnet for garbage.

PLASKON: The result of at least one unlined landfill is being felt in the states water supply. Las Vegas' old municipal dump, Sunrise Landfill isn't lined and is upstream of the Las Vegas Wash. Contamination in the wash is attributed to the landfill according to a U-S Geological Survey study in 2002. It found caffeine and nicotine, drugs for anxiety, epilepsy, hypersensitivity, narcotic painkillers and antibiotics as well. Long-term, low level exposure to those components the report warns could lead to cancer, altered psychological states, and antibiotic resistant bacteria. Given potential dangers like this, the idea of opening more unlined landfills for out of state garbage isn't a good idea according to Zichella.

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ZICHELLA: This is exactly the kind of thing I'm talking about. The medium of transportation of waste is ground water. You guys are mining groundwater. It seems silly to me. It is more than silly but I will stop there.

PLASKON: The state contends unlined landfills are safe because of the environmental review process applicants must go through. When landfill developers apply they can submit geological reports making the case that liners aren't necessary in the area. But that could change. Right now, the state is updating its waste management plan as required by law every 5 years. Les Gould Nevada Solid Waste Branch Supervisor says there are public comment periods starting in July for the public to consider implementing fees for permitting and groundwater protecting liners in landfills.

GOULD: Basically we have to set up our waste management structure to make sure it will be managed properly wherever it comes from.

PLASKON: Nevada already buries 500 thousand tons of garbage each year, mostly from California but also Arizona and Utah. The Lockwood landfill near Reno has no liner and takes most of the out of state garbage. In anticipation of stiffer restrictions in the future, it's applying for an expansion like other landfill operators who are also applying for new landfills. Among them, Humbolt County and one for the old open pit Rawhide mine in Mineral County. If approved, combined they could serve several cities of millions. Smaller towns in Nevada see potential economic benefits of importing garbage because of host fees that could be levied at 10 or 15 cents per ton. Among them, Elko is applying for an expansion and Crestline is shopping around for a garbage-importing contract. So Nevada is on the verge of becoming a major waste importer like New Jersey, Ohio, Virginia and Michigan, and Gould knows once Nevada has the designation it is virtually permanent.

GOULD: Some of those states are big net waste importers, they have tried to control it but you can't pass laws to exclude waste from crossing state borders, it is protected by the commerce clause of the US constitution.

PLASKON: So if someone has a private piece of land where they want to put waste, they can.

GOULD: They can and if they go through the proper environmental states and local governments can't discriminate on waste based on source. So it's hard for us to control it.

PLASKON: To date all indications are that Nevadans think the state is controlling waste just fine. Two years ago, a survey mailed to 129 people was returned by less than 50. They overwhelmingly said Nevada's landfills are protective of public health and the environment. But Gould's made it clear in presentations in April that unlined landfills pose a risk to the water supply. The final report with recommendations won't be complete for three months for the State Environmental Commission to take action if any at all. Meanwhile, applications for new and expanded landfills will fall under the old regulations, without fees and a possible threat to the states limited water supply.

Ky Plaskon, News 88-9 KNPR

Nevada Division of Environmental Protection


Nevada Division of Environmental Protection
Bureau of Waste Management
333 West Nye Lane
Carson City, 89706
OR CALL: Les Gould 775-687-9468

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Thursday, July 8, 2004

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KNPR's State of Nevada
Jul 07, 2004