Waste cannot be wished away. And waste is almost always produced whenever we convert a natural resource into a product, though its nature and quality can be variable. Tucked between sheaves of our national environmental Acts, are the Hazardous Waste Management and Handling Rules, 1989. These few pages of legislation are actually meant to ensure that our life-sustaining resources are kept pure and uncontaminated from the indiscriminate dumping of such wastes.
Why then did it take a Supreme Court to determine that not even in a single case had this law been actually applied? Of the over 8800 known hazardous waste producing industries, not one was disposing waste in a contained manner, i.e. in “secured” landfills.
What are landfills? How secure are they in actual practice? Are they the final answer to keeping our water and soil clean? Can we afford the technology? And what is the responsibility of industry in all this? What about communities, where these landfills will be sited? How secure are they? As part of current laws, communities have a right to ask and be given information through a public hearing process. But do they even know what to ask, or what dangers could lurk in their backyards? These are complex questions, relating to technology, management and experiences with landfills.
This paper is an outcome of such concerns. It is meant to inform the common man, as well as raise the level of debate in more informed circles, about what is normally couched in scientific rhetoric, but is basically very simple – how to make a hole in the ground so that it contains something which is hazardous and unwanted – preferably forever.
We felt that this information was especially urgent in light of the large investments being proposed for landfills currently, and the absence of any standards for them. We do not wish to be landed with mere leaking holes in the ground a decade from now, which could happen if the issues, which this paper raises, are not taken into consideration. It is supplemented by the case study of Niagra County.
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