As lawmakers weigh veto override, landfill industry backing away from 'garbage juice' technology
Posted August 23
Raleigh, N.C. — House members plan to take up five bills Thursday that Gov. Roy Cooper has vetoed, including one that would allow landfill operators to spray wastewater into the air over their dumps to cut down on the amount they have to pay to have treated.
The aerosolization process theoretically allows the water to evaporate, with the heavier particles of pollution falling back onto the landfill. Environmental groups argue the technology is unproven and could spread contaminants to areas around landfills. Some have even dubbed the liquid "garbage juice," noting it contains bacteria from rotted food and diaper waste as well as heavy metals and other toxic pollutants that have seeped to the bottom and edges of the landfill.
Republican legislative leaders have been pushing for years to force the state Department of Environmental Quality to allow the practice, but some waste management companies now say aerosolization doesn't work and they're no longer interested in using it.
Waste company Republic Services, which tested the process at a landfill in Lenoir, said this week the trial was a failure.
"We have concluded that the technique is not a viable alternative for our liquids management in North Carolina," the company said in a statement. "We have no plans for its future use or application."
Charah LLC, which operates a landfill near Moncure, told DEQ on Tuesday that it wants to withdraw its request for an aerosolization permit.
"Charah does not plan to proceed with the field trial of the leachate evaporation system at Brickhaven at this time. In the future, we may reconsider the use of this technology if it makes economic sense and does not impact neighbors and the environment," Norman Divers, the company's director of engineering, environmental and quality, wrote in an email to state regulators.
DEQ said one company has been granted a permit for aerosolization, and Robeson County has applied for a permit.
But Margaret Lillard, a spokeswoman with the state chapter of the Sierra Club, said the industry's ambivalence toward the technology is a clear sign that lawmakers should let the veto stand.
"The legislature should listen to the industry if they won’t listen to logic or DEQ itself," Lillard said. "There’s nothing time sensitive. There’s nothing urgent about this that they have to find a new way of dealing with leachate at landfills that says it has to be passed now. Let’s be reasonable. Let’s take our time (and) allow the proper testing to take place."
Kelly Houston, who lives near Charlotte, holds the patent for the aerosolization technology. His family gave $10,000 in campaign contributions last year to Sen. Trudy Wade, R-Guilford, a member of GOP leadership in the legislature.