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'Garbage juice' spray bill heads to Cooper

Posted June 15, 2017 6:40 p.m. EDT
Updated July 13, 2018 1:46 p.m. EDT

— A measure on its way to the governor's desk would allow landfills to collect the contaminated liquid that leaks from the trash and shoot it up into the air over the dump, using giant blowers called aerosolizers.

Backers of the measure say the water will form smaller droplets and evaporate, while the contaminants in it will form larger droplets and fall back down. But critics say there's not enough evidence that the process is safe, especially for neighborhoods surrounding landfills, where they worry the spray could drift.

The process would save waste companies money by reducing the amount of contaminated wastewater they have to pay to treat.

House Bill 576 would require the state Department of Environmental Quality to approve permits for the process, which Sen. Trudy Wade, R-Guilford, insisted Thursday is safe, though Democrats said they never received studies or data they had requested as evidence of that.

"Aerosolization has been tested in North Carolina and Virginia over the last year and a half," Wade said. "This process has been permitted by two administrations in DEQ, and they have approved the language."

The inventor of the aerosolizer technology, patent holder Kelly Houston of Cornelius, contributed $5,000 to Wade's campaign in June 2016, according to state campaign finance records.

Critics of the measure noted that it does not give DEQ the option of saying no.

"If DEQ fully supports this, why are we dictating to them to allow it?" asked Sen. Ben Clark, D-Hoke, calling the liquid, known as leachate, a "witches' brew" that would drift over neighborhoods around landfills if it is sprayed as a mist into the air.

Sen. Paul Lowe, D-Forsyth, noted that such neighborhoods are usually "black and brown communities."

"When you talk about spraying garbage juice into the air, I certainly wouldn’t want to be in the path, and I don’t know anyone in this room who would," Lowe said. "There’s something about that that just seems wrong."

Wade took exception to the term "garbage juice."

"The only thing that’s sprayed in the air is an aerosol of water. All the components fall back down into a lined landfill, where they can be disposed of," she said.

The measure passed 29-14, with Sen. Tamara Barringer, R-Wake, joining the Democrats in opposition.

Gov. Roy Cooper will have 10 days to decide whether to sign the bill, veto it or let it become law without his signature. Spokesman Ford Porter said the governor "is reviewing this legislation but has concerns."