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Landfills present no environmental hazard if properly operated and maintained

2014-09-09

Formation and management of waste is one of the world’s most acute environmental issues. Landfills are sites that require special care. To prevent environmental contamination and chemical impact on underground water, landfills must be used safely and should be properly insulated. Although increased levels of some chemical compounds have been found in individual landfills, they have no considerable effect on underground water, according to the experts at the Lithuanian Geological Survey who monitor the quality of underground water.

Landfills are included in the group of sources of contamination which are potentially hazardous to users of underground water and other environmental sites. A landfill is a facility whose economic activity causes direct or indirect exposure of the underground hydrosphere to substances and chemical compounds, which alter the chemical composition of underground water. The key factor affecting the underground hydrosphere is potential release of different pollutants to the environment during degradation of accumulated litter.

As part of Lithuania’s accession to the EU, a complete overhaul of the country’s waste collection and management system was started. A municipal waste management reform has seen significant progress resulting in the creation of regional waste management centres and regional landfills for non-hazardous waste.

For a few years already, municipal waste in many towns and larger villages has been collected in a centralised way while the infrastructure of collecting this waste has undergone intensive development. Lithuania now has 11 regional landfills for non-hazardous waste, which have been set up to environmental standards.

Lithuania’s operating regional landfills for non-hazardous waste in Alytus, Kaunas (Lapės and Zabieliškis), Marijampolė, Panevėžys, Telšiai and Utena are set up next to the old existing recultivated landfills. Klaipėda and Šiauliai regional landfills are sited beside a hazardous waste management company, UAB Toksika, while Tauragė landfill on a new parcel of land. Vilnius regional landfill is established next to the former municipal waste landfill for the towns of Elektrėnai and Vievis. The old landfill had no bottom-insulating base and no drainage system, so deposited waste was excavated and moved to the area of the operating Kazokiškės landfill. The currently operating Vilnius (Kazokiškės) landfill is set up at the site of a former gravel and sand quarry.

The Lithuanian Geological Survey collects and systematises data on the monitoring of underground water in regional landfills for non-hazardous waste. The monitoring network is situated not only around the new regional landfills but also at the old existing recultivated facilities. It means that the quality of underground water is assessed generally.

The anthropogenic load of regional landfills for non-hazardous waste is distributed unevenly. There are landfills with an integrated environmental impact, i.e. increased levels of chemical elements are observed in individual wells: Kaunas (Lapės) (Cl, NO2, NH4, Cd, Cr, Ni, Pb ), Panevėžys (Cl, NO2, NO3, NH4, Cr, Ni) and Utena (Cl, NO2, NO3, NH4, Cd, Pb, Cr, Ni). This impact is most likely related to the operations of the adjacent old recultivated landfills. On the other hand, there are regional landfills with a lower (by 1–3 chemical elements) anthropogenic load. This impact is obsesrved in individual wells and single hydrochemical samples at Alytus (Cd, Ni), Kaunas (Zabieliškis) (Cl, NO3, NH4), Šiauliai (NO2, NH4), Tauragė (Ni), Telšiai (NO2, NH4) and Vilnius (NH4, Cr) landfills. Further monitoring surveys of these entities will show whether their underground impact was single (accidental) or long-term (continuous). In some regional landfills the indications of contamination are low and in line with environmental protection requirements. This is true about Klaipėda and Marijampolė landfills.

Summarising the available information and considering that increased levels of some chemical compounds are observed in individual landfills, one can conclude that they have no significant impact on underground water. Negative environmental impact may occur only as a result of improper maintenance or operation. A duly operated and maintained landfill will present no significant hazard to the environment.

Public information division
09/09/2014

Minister of Environment of Lithuania Kęstutis Navickas
Minister of Environment of Lithuania Kęstutis Navickas