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WM settles with EPA over Hawaii landfill
$1.1 million penalty assessed for Clean Air Act violations

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has settled with Waste Management of Hawaii, Inc. and the city and county of Honolulu over violations of air pollution laws at the Waimanalo Gulch Landfill in Kapolei, Oahu.

Waste Management, operator of the landfill, and the city, owner of the landfill, are being required to implement enhanced gas monitoring to reduce the threat of underground fires at the landfill, follow fire response procedures in the event of a fire, and pay a civil penalty of $1.1 million. Waste Management estimates it has already spent about $1.5 million to design and construct a gas collection/control system required by federal law.

The settlement resolves allegations that Waste Management and the city failed to design, construct and operate a gas collection/control system, submit notifications regarding failures to complete construction milestones, prepare a startup, shutdown and malfunction plan, and to operate controls within the gas temperature limit. In addition, gas generated by decomposing refuse, such as air toxics, organic compounds, and methane – a potent greenhouse gas – was emitted from the landfill for approximately three years from 2002 to 2005.

Federal law requires large landfills to install and operate systems to collect gases generated by decomposing refuse. Effective gas controls at a landfill reduces the release of these gases, preventing them from escaping into the atmosphere. The federal default limit for gas temperatures in landfills is 131° F, in contrast to the Waimanalo Gulch Landfill system which has recorded temperatures as high as 188° F. Poorly controlled landfill gas, especially if it is excessively hot, may result in an underground fire.

Although there is no underground combustion at the facility currently, the settlement requires the company to comply with new safe interim gas temperature limits that are higher than the default limit, perform additional special gas monitoring, and insure that all monitoring data meets the requirements of a specified data quality plan. After the interim limits expire in 2016, Waste Management may use the monitoring data to support a request for permanent temperature limits that are higher than the default limit.

The Waimanalo Gulch Landfill was also the subject of EPA enforcement orders under the Clean Water Act, after heavy rains in January 2011 flooded a section of the landfill, causing waste to be released that resulted in beach contamination and closures. EPA’s compliance orders to Waste Management required an immediate cleanup, measures to stabilize the structure after the flooding, and stormwater control projects at the landfill.