House Bill 576 - Allow Aerosolization of Leachate

Energy & Environment

This bill lets landfills dispose of leachate, or water that collects at the bottom of the landfill, by spraying it into the air

Read the full bill text on the NCGA website

Quick overview:

This bill allows the disposal of landfill leachate through aerosolization, or spraying it in the air, without a permit. 

The bill specifically would require that the Department of Environmental Quality allow landfills in North Carolina to use the sprayer. The sprayer will spray the leachate - or water that accumulates at the bottom of landfills - into the air over the landfill. Bill supporters claim that the contaminants will fall from the leachate over the landfill and will not end up in the air and water and travel into nearby neighborhoods and end up in streams and rivers. However, environmental groups oppose the leachate technology, pointing out that North Carolina's humid environment does not guarantee that the contaminants will stay out of backyards and drinking water. There have been no scientific studies on the technology, but scientists have found over 190 contaminants in leachate, including carcinogens.

The inventor of the technology is a former lobbyist and Republican campaign donor.

Oppose H576 – Aerosolization of Leachate 

This bill requires DEQ to permit a brand new technology for disposal of leachate and wastewater from landfills, and to take the position that it does not constitute a discharge requiring a permit. 

A scientist at USEPA responded to our request for comment with several studies showing that landfill leachates and wastewater treatment plant effluents contain large amounts of volatile perfluoroalkyl sulfonic acids (PFAs), and other harmful chemicals. The aeration of these liquid streams drives the volatiles into the air, which then presents an exposure hazard to workers at these plants and citizens downwind. The scientist stated “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere near a leachate aeration basin. The downwind emissions would very likely contain a very wide range of toxic materials.” 

Aerosolization blasts leachate through a high velocity fan, turning it into droplets that evaporate or blow away, reducing leachate volumes. Critics worry that the aerosol droplets, containing toxics or bacteria, may threaten neighboring or downwind properties. A larger question is why, if the technology can be operated safely - something that the industry claims, but that has not been demonstrated to any state agency - it needs a special exemption from state permitting laws. 

Further, there is no definition of aerosolization and no standards for its use. This bill does not appear to authorize the EMC to adopt any standards to regulate this practice. 

Spraying leachate is least damaging in dry climates (less than 20 inches of rain a year with low humidity) and on big landfills – ones that accept over 3 tons a day. NC gets on average between 37 and 55 inches of rain a year and has very high humidity, and the vast majority of landfills in our state are much smaller than those recommended for this practice. 

This bill includes both leachate and wastewater without a permit. There is almost no wastewater associated with any municipal landfill – leachate and wastewater are not the same thing. This bill language could set a precedent allowing wastewater spraying at other facilities/landfills, such as those accepting coal ash. 

There are several solid waste permits in North Carolina that would allow for leachate spraying (aersolization), including the Brickhaven Structural Fill permit (Brickhaven accepts coal ash). None of these facilities have actually started using the procedure. In those permits, if the spraying ever happens it must only happen in the footprint of the facility. 

Questions that remain regarding H576:

How many gallons will be disposed of in this manner on how many acres? 

Will soil become contaminated if this liquid is not treated?

What is the potential impact on neighbors and downwind communities of contaminant that volatize or are carried in small aerosol droplets? 

Why can't this idea be left to the agency/ commission experts to evaluate, since the NCGA does not have this kind of detailed technical expertise? 

Why is wastewater included in this language and not just leachate? 

What would prevent this bill from allowing the aerosolization of wastewater at coal ash disposal sites?