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May 2004

Study Concludes Landfills Effectively Control the Release of Heavy Metals

Silver Spring, MD— The SWANA Applied Research Foundation released the results of a year-long study that concludes that municipal solid waste landfills (MSW) can provide for the safe, efficient and long-term management of products containing heavy metals and can effectively control the release of heavy metals to the environment.

After ongoing research, SWANA’s Applied Research Foundation found that the natural processes that occur within a MSW landfill, such as precipitation and absorption, effectively inhibit heavy metals from dissolving into the leachate or being released from the landfill in the form of landfill gas. The study presents extensive data that show that heavy metal concentrations in leachate and landfill gas are generally far below the limits that have been established to protect human health and the environment.

Jeremy O’Brien, Director of the Applied Research Foundation and primary author, said that the study was prompted by a growing concern about the possible adverse effects heavy metal products could have if they were disposed of in municipal solid waste landfills.

In commenting on the report, SWANA’s Executive Director and CEO, John H. Skinner, Ph.D., said, “This study is clearly one of the most significant pieces of work that SWANA has produced in recent years. SWANA endorses and promotes source reduction and recycling programs for products containing heavy metals. However, as this research shows, MSW landfills can provide an effective safety net for heavy metal containing products that are not reduced or recycled.”

According to the report, 130,200 tons of heavy metals were placed in MSW landfills in the year 2000. Lead represented over 98% of these metals. Cadmium (2.1%) and mercury (0.3%) were also found. Discarded consumer electronics, batteries, thermometers, electronic and electric switches and pigments were major contributors.

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