Toxic waste at Virginiatown landfill raises concerns

By: Carol Percy, Reporter Lincoln News Messenger
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Lincoln City Councilman Spencer Short and an engineering consultant to the city are concerned about potential dangers to the environmental health of Lincoln residents, due to toxic solid waste at the closed Virginiatown landfill.


Lincoln City Council met in closed session Monday at City Hall to discuss options for the landfill remediation.

As background, at the April  23 regular City Council meeting, Short asked that  consent item 6.3 A be removed for further discussion. The item referred to a Corrective Action Plan and Engineering Feasibility Study presented by Applied Engineering and Geology, Inc. The plan detailed a clean-up action for the Virginiatown landfill.

The study, presented by Applied Engineering and Geology, Inc.’s principal engineer Earl Stephens at the April 23 council meeting, stated that hazardous materials had migrated into ground water at the closed site on Virginiatown Road.

“Laboratory analytical results indicate ground water beneath certain sections of the site, specifically in the vicinity of the disposal trenches, has elevated concentrations of contaminants,” according to the study.

In Stephens’ report, 10 toxic substances are listed that “have elevated concentrations of contaminants. Some of the substances include Freon 12, Chloroform, Benzene, vinyl Chloride, Methylene Chloride 19, methane and metals, including lead.

The Applied Engineering and Geology, Inc. report also stated that metals and “semi volatile organic compounds” were found in boreholes and that “wastes are present and . . . have migrated to groundwater.”

Semivolatile organic compounds are organic chemical compounds whose composition makes it possible for them to evaporate under normal indoor atmospheric conditions of temperature and pressure, according to

Migrating wastewater from the Virginiatown Road landfill is “adjacent to a surface waterway,” according to Stephens’ report.

Asked which “surface waterway” the report referred to, Councilman Short verified this week that it was Auburn Ravine.

Asked by The News Messenger how hazardous these contaminants are to human health, Short said, “It’s hard to tell because no one really knows everything that’s present in a 60-year-old landfill.”

“The problem is that we don’t know exactly what’s in the landfill. It could be anything from old lead pipe to asbestos, from chemicals to pesticides,” Short said. “But the real physical danger to residents is the leakage into groundwater.”

Referring to the Applied Engineering and Geology report at the April 23 council meeting, Short told the city that its chosen remediation for the landfill (a repaired clay cap and well monitoring) would not take care of the public health threat. As a result, council called a special session this past Monday to review the proposed plan to remediate toxic conditions at the landfill on Virginiatown Road.

The proposal ended in a 4 to 1 vote. Mayor Stan Nader and Councilmen Paul Joiner, Gabriel Hydrick and Peter Gilbert voted for the proposal to go ahead with the clay cap remediation for the landfill. Councilman Spencer Short voted against the plan to accept the clay cap remediation.

Nader said Monday’s vote by council directed city staff to submit the Applied Engineering and Geology report to the California Water Quality Control Board and seek funding “to give the best results for the citizens of Lincoln.”

The council disagreed on which of eight options presented in the report would address the landfill clean-up.

Why city officials disagree about want to do with the dump

Short said that the city’s plan to repair the clay cap over the landfill “is inadequate and would end up not only costing the city more money over time but could adversely affect local residents.”

Short told The News Messenger that he voted against the council’s decision Monday to opt for the least expensive mediation because he “wants a long- term solution to the problem, even though it will initially cost more.

The eight options for landfill remediation range from $611,000 to over $14 million, according to the Applied Engineering and Geology report.

Nader disagreed with Short’s evaluation and said Tuesday that the council was “under a time constraint” to submit the report to the state water board.

“We are continuing to work with them (the California Water Quality Control Board) to establish what the most cost-effective solution will be for the landfill,” Nader said. “We have eight options and we don’t want to pick one that might be excessive. It’s a matter of negotiation.”

Nader added that the city’s relationship with the water board “is presently good and the council is hopeful that the water agency may assist with costs to remediate the toxic nature of the landfill.”

The city’s deadline for submitting a report to the California Water Quality Control Board is May 15, according to city officials.

The dump’s checkered past

According to the AEG report, the old landfill occupies a 6.3 acre parcel on the south side of Virginiatown Road, west of Hungry Hollow Road and north of the Turkey Creek Golf Course and Turkey Creek.

The landfill operated for 24 years beginning in 1952. Open five days per week, the landfill was composed of seven open trenches. In 1976, the landfill closed and monitoring of the site began in 1989. Four years later in 1993, the city attempted to remediate the site. First, the landfill was bulldozed, then layers of soil and clay were compacted, followed by a cap of vegetation. This method repairs the top layer but the bottom portion of the fill remains exposed to ground water.

What the city wants to do at the site

The remediation plan recommended by the city’s public works department, and the plan that Short opposed, was not one of the options listed in the Applied Engineering and Geology report. Rather, the city asked Stephens to evaluate an eighth option, according to page 50 in the report.

With that option, the city would repair the clay cap over the landfill, thus preventing rainwater from penetrating the dump and creating wastewater that might migrate into the water table.

The current clay cap was constructed in 1993, when the 6.3 acre site was bulldozed and 1eveled and then covered with three layers of compacted soil, clay and vegetation, according to a California Water Quality Control Board report number R5-2003-0142.

The new clay cap repair would initially cost the city $611,000 and would also require on-going monitoring at an annual cost of $130,000 per year, according to the AEG report.

Stephens said that the clay cap repair should limit surface water infiltration reducing the amount of contaminants that migrate into groundwater.

“However, this remedial method would not remove the source of the groundwater contamination or prevent groundwater at the landfill site from being further contaminated,” Stephens said.

Councilman Short’s remediation choice for the landfill

Because contaminants are migrating into groundwater, Short said, the “most comprehensive solution” would be to over-excavate the site, removing all hazardous materials.

“Over-excavating protects the current and future citizens of Lincoln from significant financial consequences,” Short said.

The over-excavation option could cost up to $14 million, according to AEG’s estimates. Over-excavation is the only option of the seven presented by AEG that does not entail future monitoring costs.

Short said that he’s looking to fund sources for landfill remediation.

“I’ve identified about $1 million in state and federal grant funds that are available and there are other funding opportunities to pay for the landfill remediation,” said Short.

Tom Cosgrove, a former Lincoln city councilman agreed that the best remediation solution for the landfill would be to over-excavate the site.

“That removes all the bad stuff. Years ago, everything went into the dump. It could have been motor oils or Freon, literally everything. As far as I know, the site is relatively self-contained,” Cosgrove said. “The concern involves the ground water. We don’t use ground water in Lincoln; our water comes from the Placer County Water Agency. But it (the migration) is a concern for the people in the unincorporated areas.”