Government and Industry Collaborate to Monitor Drinking Water Wells around Landfills in Mahoning County, Ohio

State: OH Type: Model Practice Year: 2009

This program responds to community concerns about the effect of landfill activities on groundwater that serves as the drinking water source for landfill neighbors. Our goal was to assure safe drinking water from groundwater sources for rural residents living near landfills in Mahoning County. Our objectives were to create a registry of private water wells within one mile of eight landfills and sample twice per year; provide well owners with useful information about their water quality; and monitor trends in groundwater quality in wells around landfills. Statistical analysis of the database indicates that the solid waste landfills are not affecting private drinking water wells in the area. All observable public drinking water exceedances are attributed to secondary maximum contaminant levels for aesthetic quality. The program enjoys strong support from local elected officials and host community residents and has received additional funding in the four amendments to the host community agreement that the parties have negotiated since 1991.
There are approximately 240,000 residents in Mahoning County. Groundwater is used as a water source for most rural communities of Mahoning County. Rural residents rely on approximately 12,000 private water wells for their drinking water. Ground water resources are also used to serve industries and farming operations within the community. Mahoning county’s aquifers vary from high-yielding sandstones that underlie glacial deposits, valley fills of sand and gravels, to lower producing sandstones under unconsolidated deposits. The availability of clean, uncontaminated water sources are important public health issues. Preventing contamination of our drinking water supplies is of utmost importance. Mahoning County is home to various landfill disposal facilities. There are two types of landfill facilities located in the health district: solid waste sanitary landfill facilities, which dispose of household trash, commercial waste, industrial processing waste, and municipal and industrial sludge; and construction and demolition debris facilities, which dispose of waste from the construction of homes and buildings and/or the destruction of man-made structures. The disposal of solid waste and construction and demolition debris in Mahoning County has continued to increase over the life of the groundwater surveillance program. As of 2007, Mahoning County ranked as the third largest solid waste disposing county in the state of Ohio. There are a total of eight landfill facilities (four closed and four active) spread throughout Mahoning County’s 14 townships. The construction and demolition debris facility located in Green Township is unique because it is located on top of and adjacent to two closed sanitary landfills. All three nationally owned solid waste landfills located in Mahoning County are currently seeking major expansion permits and authorized daily waste receipt limit increases. One closed solid waste landfill is currently regulated as a potential contamination source by Ohio EPA’s Division of Emergency and Remedial Response and one closed solid waste facility is abandoned and classified as an orphan landfill. The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations require all landfill facilities to conduct semi-annual groundwater detection monitoring sampling events. All three active solid waste landfills and one active construction and demolition debris landfill have had statistically significant increases over the background groundwater detection monitoring levels. Therefore, these facilities have commenced assessment monitoring and must make a determination of the vertical and lateral rate and extent of the statistical increases and conclude whether the landfill is affecting the groundwater. So far these increases over background levels have not been observed in nearby private wells monitored by our program. By implementing the groundwater surveillance program in communities adjacent to the landfills and performing time trending analysis, the BOH has put in place a sentinel system that will monitor the potential effect from waste disposal activities and provide a comparison of the community’s overall groundwater quality with water quality standards. Living in one of the largest waste-importing counties in the nation, Mahoning County residents have long expressed concerns about groundwater protection in rural areas where water wells are the only source of drinking water for many families. These concerns were clearly observed in the BOH’s recent environmental health assessment and planning initiative that has placed water quality first among local priorities for action. In 2004 the BOH, in partnership with approximately 40 individuals representing 25 various tri-county agencies, published the results of its Protocol for Assessing Community Excellence in Environmental Health (PACE EH) initiative. In its report titled, Improving Environmental Health in the Mahoning Valley, 24 percent of respondents surveyed by the PACE partn
Costs and ExpendituresWe received approximately $400,000 in startup costs from a host community agreement with the Mahoning County Solid Waste Management District and $400,000 from Allied Waste Services (now Republic Services) for laboratory equipment and fixtures; and approximately $200,000 per year in recurrent costs funded by the Mahoning County Solid Waste Management District. ImplementationEach year more than a million tons of solid waste and construction and demolition debris is disposed of in Mahoning County landfills, making Mahoning County one of the largest waste importing counties in the nation. In Ohio, health districts are responsible for regulating the operation of these landfills as agents of the state’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This groundwater surveillance program began at the request of families and well-organized opposition groups in the vicinity of these landfills and is funded through a landmark 1991 host community agreement between the District Board of Health (BOH), Allied Waste Services (now Republic Services), Poland Township, and Mahoning County’s solid waste management district. Recruitment for the voluntary groundwater monitoring program began in 1993 when any resident who lived within a one-mile radius of any county landfill was contacted by mail and invited to participate in the program. The BOH continues to recruit participants through word of mouth referrals, telephone surveys, and personal contact with constituents. Using the Mahoning County geographical information system (GIS) and the resources of the Mahoning County Engineer’s Office, the BOH mapped all wells serving residences located within the one-mile radius. As of fall 2008, 183 residents were participating in the program. Participation has increased by approximately 5 percent per year since its inception. Drinking water samples are collected on average twice yearly from each participant. Sanitarians from the BOH collect samples from the residents’ homes using Ohio EPA standard sampling procedures. Sanitarians attempt to collect raw water samples from either inside the residence at the well storage tank or from an outside spigot that is not connected to a water treatment system. The samples are analyzed in the BOH’s fully accredited laboratory. All tests are performed using approved EPA methods along with testing procedures from Standard Methods for the Examination of Drinking and Wastewater. The water samples are analyzed for 28 different chemical and bacteriological parameters, such as heavy metals, volatile organic compounds, coliform bacteria, and chemicals that may cause aesthetic problems in water. These parameters are part of the Ohio EPA primary and secondary drinking water standards. Once the results are finalized, homeowners receive several reports: an explanation of the chemical and bacteriological parameters tested; an explanation of public drinking water standards; and “At a Glance” tables that compare the test results over the last eight sampling periods. This report enables the homeowner to easily identify anomalies or trends in their water quality. The BOH has begun a time series analysis to determine if the landfills are affecting groundwater quality and to compare these wells with water quality results from Ohio EPA’s network of monitoring wells located throughout Ohio. The BOH’s ongoing surveillance of groundwater around Mahoning County landfills has allayed residents’ concerns about the environmental effect of landfilling large volumes of out-of-state waste in their communities. The program enjoys strong support from program participants, local elected officials, and the landfill industry, all of whom have advocated effectively for ongoing funding for the program during the last 15 years.
As of July 2008, 183 homeowners participated in the twice-yearly testing program, whose wells represent 14 percent of the 1,308 wells within a one-mile radius of the eight landfills. The BOH continues to recruit participants with participation rates increasing by 5 percent a year since the inception of the program. The use of geographical information system (GIS) mapping enabled us to strategically target gaps in the monitoring network. More readable forms were essential to program success, thus “At a Glance” reports were created to make feedback to users and funders more user-friendly. It is our desire to provide the homeowner with test results that will help them to identify any trends or abnormalities in their drinking water. The data are aggregated into a table that compares all sample results to Maximum Contaminant Levels, Secondary Maximum Contaminant Levels, Action Levels, or Recommended Levels for public drinking water systems. Using this table the reader is able to determine the percentage of parameters that exceed these concentrations. The “At a Glance” report showing the last eight sampling events makes it easier for the homeowner to review their test results and identify any systematic changes or trends in their ground water quality in chronological order. Report recipients have told us that the “At a Glance” reports are more understandable than earlier reporting formats.
The District Board of Health has made a long-term commitment to maintain the landfill groundwater surveillance program. The testing program began at the request of landfill host community residents and is funded through a host community (consent) agreement and contracts between the District Board of Health, Republic Services, Inc., Poland Township, and the Mahoning County Solid Waste Management District The BOH also receives approximately $200,000 each year in operational support from the Mahoning County Solid Waste Management District. Ohio law allows for the expenditure of fees levied on landfill waste for paying the costs incurred by boards of health for collecting and analyzing samples from public or private water wells on lands adjacent to those facilities.