Cost-cutting making landfill sites 'a timebomb'
Published 06/12/2010 | 05:00
LANDFILL operators are storing up an environmental timebomb by not putting money aside to make the facilities safe after they close.
Two out of every three landfills have been found to be under-charging operators to use their facilities in a desperate attempt to get market share.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) confirmed it issued 16 non-compliance notices to landfills across the country after it learned that operators were not putting money aside to remediate them.
It comes after a report last week warned that a dump near Naas in Co Kildare, closed by the High Court, represents a major environmental hazard because toxic substances and explosive gases are escaping from it.
The Kerdiffstown dump is leaking 50-million litres of toxic water every year, the equivalent amount of raw sewage produced by 100,000 people, it warned, adding that the cost of making the site safe could be as much as €30m. By law, landfill operators are obliged to charge users to dispose of waste or at least the cost of running the dump.
Three things must be covered -- the cost of servicing bank loans used to establish the facility, the day-to-day running costs and the costs over 30 years of making the site safe after its closure.
The EPA confirmed it issued 16 non-compliance notices to operators, and if they did not improve their performance they would be prosecuted, facing fines of up to €16m.
"The issue is that not enough is being charged, in particular for the aftercare," spokesman Jim Moriarty said.
"A landfill will carry on producing gas so you have to have a piping system and a flaring area for years after. There are ongoing costs of up to 30 years, which can run into tens of millions of euro. We have to be satisfied that that money is there.
"Undoubtedly looking for business is part of the reason (for low fees). Just because you're charging €80 a tonne now, and say you'll charge €150 in three years' time, we can't take that at face value. If someone walks away, someone has to look after it -- who's going to pay for it?"
There are 22 landfill across the country and more are expected to close in the coming years.
The local authorities warned about how they run their facilities include Cork, Mayo, Donegal, Cavan, Roscommon, Westmeath, South Dublin, Carlow, Wexford, Fingal, Wicklow, Kilkenny, North Tipperary, South Tipperary and Laois.