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Dickinson Supervisor Wants Tighter Landfill Regulations After Hearing Derailment Disposal Report

Over 20,000 tons of non-hazardous waste was delivered to the Dickinson County landfill through Jan. 18, after a freight train derailed in Lyon County last year.

A Dickinson County supervisor says he’d like to see regulations tightened on landfills. The county recently reviewed a reporton a 2018 train derailment and the disposal of the waste at a local landfill. 
Over 20,000 tons of non-hazardous waste was delivered to the Dickinson County Landfill through Jan. 18,  after a freight train derailed in Lyon County last year. The materials delivered included soil, oily debris and wood chips and corn mixed in with crude oil.

Dickinson supervisors were concerned about this because the landfill is close to a lake. But a consultant’s report concluded the landfill is "highly regulated and has a good compliance record" based on public documents available. That brought a question to Supervisor Bill Leupold’s mind.

“Where is the middle ground between over-regulating and possibly putting the landfill out of business, and under-regulating and putting our citizens in peril?” Leupold asked.

Leupold said he’d like to see stricter landfill regulations and surface water inspections. He said it’s “quite possible” that the county could take this request to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

A recommendation in the report, done by consulting firm Coggin & Fairchild Environmental Consultants, Inc. of Illinois, suggested the county board of supervisors may ask the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to review the monitoring requirements in the landfill's permit.

Mary Skopec, the executive director of the Iowa Lakeside Laboratory, said the materials that went into the landfill during the cleanup were non-hazardous materials, but “they do have contaminants that may be a concern.”

One of the questions this brings up, she said, is how likely are those contaminants to move off-site. Part of the landfill does not have a liner while the other part does, which Skopec said is a gap. A liner protects the movement of liquids down into the groundwater.

“When the original landfill was put in, it predates many of the regulations, so it doesn’t have that liner,” Skopec said. “The question then becomes when you add onto that landfill, when you move into other areas, and you do have a liner, I think it goes to the level of risk that one might be willing to assume.”

Skopec continued, “If that risk is such that you impact the Iowa Great Lakes, is that something that you want to take another step to make sure that you're protecting it? Is a standard liner appropriate? Do you need to think about additional groundwater collection systems that collect and treat that water before it’s discharged?”

In an email, Iowa Department of Natural Resources Land Quality Bureau Chief Alex Moon said the DNR believes the current landfill regulations “provide adequate protection for the environment and the public.”

Moon said Iowa follows the minimum federal standards for landfills, which cover seven areas from location restrictions, to the installment of liners, to operating practices that help reduce odor and protect public health.

“We work closely with the U.S. EPA and other states on reviewing the current standards to ensure that they are still providing adequate protection,” Moon said. “There have not been any recent significant changes to the federal standards, but if there were, we would work to update Iowa's landfill regulations accordingly.”

Landfill regulations do have requirements for surface water monitoring, Moon said, which the DNR believes are protective rules.

“They specify the circumstances when monitoring is necessary and the specific steps that have to be taken by the landfill agency,” Moon said. “The results of sampling also have to be submitted and reviewed by the DNR. They are included as part of the annual groundwater quality monitoring report.”

In June 2018, a Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway train derailed in Lyon County. Ten tank cars spilled an estimated 160,000 gallons of crude oil into the floodwaters of the Little Rock River, a tributary of the Rock River. When Dickinson County heard the waste was being transported to their county landfill, people feared the worst, Leupold said.

“We were afraid that these chemicals and what-not might get into our lakes and disrupt not only the ecology, but the recreation that people have on the lake,” Leupold said.

The landfill, which is operated by Waste Management, does not accept hazardous waste. Waste Management did not respond to a request for comment.

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Katie Peikes was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio from 2018 to 2023. She joined IPR as its first-ever Western Iowa reporter, and then served as the agricultural reporter.