WMI: Cedar Ridge polluting stream

Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Rick Skillington, whose home is directly across Mooresville Pike from the Cedar Ridge Landfill driveway, left, receives a letter from Waste Management spokeswoman Terri Douglas, right, about the company's realization that liquid waste seeping from the landfill is the most logical conclusion on the cause of pollution in a creek behind Skillington's home.

Waste Management Inc., the company that operates Cedar Ridge Landfill just west of Lewisburg, says its leaders believe the landfill is the source of pollution in the water and creek bed down stream from Vickrey Spring near Poteet Road.

Meanwhile, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation was asked if the pollution at Vickrey Spring, its tributary to East Fork Globe Creek and the creek would have an effect on its decision on the landfill's expansion. TDEC's spokeswoman said yes.

"I am told we will certainly take this recent issue into consideration in regard to the expansion request," TDEC spokeswoman Meg Lockhart told the Tribune. Permitting expansion, or denial of the permit, both have significant impacts on Marshall County residents as revealed by a decision by the county's Solid Waste Committee. (See separate story.)

Lockhart released the state's stream water test results late Thursday afternoon.

"From a water quality standpoint, this is a serious and ongoing issue," Lockhart said.

Several residents near the spring had suspected as much, although some withheld judgment until test results were available. Members of six households commented recently, asking what would be done about the odor and discoloration of the water and the streambed.

"It is now a matter for our Division of Solid Waste Management to ensure that the issue is corrected, and any enforcement ... would be handled by this division," Lockhart said.

The state's test results are similar to those obtained by Waste Management.

"We received preliminary results from sampling of Vickrey Branch and, based on our initial review, we believe the source is from Cedar Ridge Landfill," Waste Management Community Relations Manager Terri Douglas said in a hand-delivered, one-page letter dated Thursday and addressed "Dear Neighbors."

"Cedar Ridge Landfill wants to share accurate information as quickly as possible regarding impacts to Vickrey Branch," Douglas wrote. "We made this initial determination based on elevated levels of ammonia, chloride, sodium and potassium, and elevated conductivity measurements."

Conductivity measurements examine water's ability to carry an electrical current. Various elements in water help the flow of electricity better than what would be conducted by pure water.

Stream samples also indicate coliform levels that exceed clean water standards. Coliform comes from feces of warm-blooded animals and it's a bacterial indicator of sanitary conditions.

"At this time we are advising neighbors not to enter Vickrey Branch, south of the landfill, until otherwise advised by Cedar Ridge Landfill or the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation," Douglas said.

Marshall County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett issued cautionary announcements about two weeks ago, telling area residents to stay out of the creek's water.

Waste Management's announcement was released on the evening of June 25. That Wednesday afternoon, TDEC issued its own statement, saying substantially the same thing a couple of hours earlier.

Test papers stamped "priority" were released by the state Thursday. They indicated tests for metals from aluminum to zinc. Samples for the tests were collected on the morning of June 16 by Ryan Owens of TDEC's office in Columbia.

Marshall County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett issued warnings last week telling residents to stay out of the stream and East Fork Globe Creek.

Told of the unusual color of the streambed and the sheen on the surface of the water, Liggett commented on June 19, "I've seen that color in a creek before. It was in East Fork Globe Creek seven to 10 years ago."

Lockhart substantiated the mayor's recollection.

"From past experiences it has been shown that releases from this particular landfill have typically shown high levels of chlorides and ammonia," the state official said. "In addition, past studies have shown Vickrey Spring is hydrologically connected to Cedar Ridge Landfill, which is why it is one of their sampling points."

Waste Management has maintained sampling posts to stay abreast of the water condition on properties around the landfill.

TDEC's Solid Waste Management Division has "been communicating with Cedar Ridge, along with community leaders," Lockhart said. "Based the lab results we have received, the Division believes that the problem in Vickrey Spring is being caused by leachate from the landfill."

Leachate is dirty water that's seeped through a landfill. Much of it is liquids that emerge from garbage buried daily at landfills.

Officials in TDEC's Solid Waste Management Division have "asked Cedar Ridge to investigate to determine if [the conclusion that the pollution is from leachate] is correct," Lockhart said.

TDEC's Solid Waste Division "is in the process of assessing its next steps to not only expedite a resolution to this issue but to ensure compliance" with applicable state and federal regulation, TDEC's spokeswoman said.

Furthermore, the department's Division of Water Pollution Control "is continuing to monitor the situation within the stream and will continue to provide assistance and technical expertise," the spokeswoman said as she released a technical report.

Among the several residents interviewed near the stream is Rick Skillington, whose home faces the entrance of the landfill. Last week he said he'd notified livestock owners downstream from Vickrey Spring about the state investigation that included examination of East Fork Globe Creek which generally parallels Mooresville Pike.

Lockhart said, "Based on feedback from the Water Pollution Control Division, the impact to the East Fork Globe Creek could be seen as far down as Interstate 65."

"At that time, the department instructed Cedar Ridge Landfill to identify the actual source of the contamination," Lockhart said. "In addition, we continue to monitor the issue."

As reported June 24, state and local tests found levels of E.coli bacteria that were similar up and downstream from the spring.

That "most likely rules out a septic or sewer issue as a source of contamination," the TDEC spokeswoman said.

The department also administered tests to determine the conductivity of the water. Clear water free of additional elements conducts electricity less than water with additional elements.

"Conductivity levels at the area were extremely elevated from the point of impact and downstream," Lockhart said. "At that time, the department instructed Cedar Ridge Landfill to identify the actual source of the contamination."