The Florida Department of Environmental Protection held a public hearing Thursday on Waste Management’s plan to build and use an evaporator system that will use landfill gas to help turn leachate liquids to vapor that will be then released as puffs of steam into the atmosphere at Springhill Landfill.

Leachate is made up of rainwater and other liquids that trickle through the landfill cells and interact with the contents. It collects at the bottom of the cells which are lined with a protective layer separating the garbage from the ground below. Those liquids are piped into storage tanks.

Several people who live around the landfill, like James Williams and daughter Pam Williams, say they’re already displeased by the odors that sometimes come from the landfill and are now concerned about what chemical residue will be in the leachate vapor as it is released into the air.

Company officials and FDEP officials say that those emissions will be monitored and must be kept within the air quality standards imposed by state law.

The evaporator system is the second-choice system proposed by Waste Management for dealing with the leachate in a different manner that it now uses. Currently, all the leachate piped to and stored in tanks is then taken to municipal wastewater plants for treatment and disposal.

Some time ago, the company had proposed building a deep injection well that would have sent the material underground, largely untreated except for the removal of semi-solids that collect with the straight liquids. Public outcry led to a task force put together by legislator George Gainer, and further talks ensued with the new alternative pursued.

The company expects to save money over the long term by building the evaporation system, and representatives said at a Jackson County Commission meeting this week that only Springhill leachate will be fed into the evaporation system. None from other landfills will be brought in, company officials reiterated when talking to some individuals at the informal public hearing hosted by DEP Thursday.

On Tuesday, the Jackson County Commission had approved a local development order for construction of the evaporator, and DEP is considering the state permit that must be obtained for a final green-light of the project. Agency officials say the decision-making process will progress fairly quickly from this point, but did not offer a specific timeline.

There was no formal talk or group presentation at the public hearing, held at the agriculture center on Penn Avenue in Marianna, but the agency and Waste Management had multiple displays and talked with individuals that approached those stations.

DEP displays included a permitting timeline: Waste Management had submitted its permit application for the evaporator in December of 2018; a draft construction permit was issued to the company in July of this year; public notices were issued in advance of those actions; the timeline did not include a projected date for the potential final permit issuance, but action will follow review of final comments offered by the public, which were accepted through the close of Thursday’s 4-6 p.m. meeting.

Both DEP and Waste Management had displays explaining how the evaporation system works and what its components look like.

The evaporator is designed to combust landfill gas in order to heat and evaporate the leachate, composed of the water and some organic compounds through which the liquids passed and picked up as they moved through the landfill materials and collected in the bottom. What doesn’t evaporate in the process from each batch, a semi-solid slurry left-over, will then be reapplied to the open face of the landfill and covered within a day of that application.

The tank proposed for Springhill would be enclosed in a building, with a plume of vapor emitting from it as leachate is heated and then released as a vapor. Because the proposed tank would not always have enough capacity to handle all the leachate generated, and because installing a second tank would not be cost effective to handle the remaining amount, the company plans to continue sending the excess to wastewater treatment facilities. The company says roughly 40,000 to 60,000 gallons of leachate is generated every day on average, and that the evaporator tank proposed would be able to handle a 45,000 gallon per-day capacity. Associated storage tanks can old 120,000 gallons each.

As leachate is loaded into an evaporator unit, it is heated to a temperature less than boiling, and is not pressurized, so there would be no danger of an explosion, company officials have explained. As it is fed into the burner, it’s ignited so that the water turns to vapor and is released into the atmosphere. The residuals, or solids, left behind are then transferred to a trailer and returned to the landfill, where they would remain within the lined cell in a solid state.

The evaporator would operate around the clock on an automated cycle but outfitted with remote access so that monitors could take control if a malfunction were to be detected.

Company officials confirmed in a previous meeting and repeated Thursday that no leachate from other landfills will be brought into for treatment at Springhill—the tanks are for the local landfill’s leachate only.

Regarding concerns about what chemical residue might also be released in that plume into the environment, Waste Management representatives have said that emissions are regulated by DEP and the federal EPA, and that it would not be allowed to release materials considered toxic and hazardous to the health of the public.

Although the company also pointed out that hazardous materials are not allowed in the landfill cells at all, many people have expressed doubt that anyone really knows for certain that such things don’t make their way into the cells amid all the garbage that is dumped into them every day.

Agency representatives also responded to the concerns expressed about what things really wind up in the landfill cells that are not legally allowed, and which could pose a risk if their components contribute materials that would result in dangerous chemical emissions released via the evaporator system. A DEP official questioned about that Thursday pointed out that several individuals who work at Waste Management are assigned to search every truckload of garbage that enters the landfill and are tasked with removing things like batteries and other hazardous materials that are discovered, setting them aside for proper disposal rather than letting them be load into the cell with the allowable waste.

FDEP officials also say agency representatives, in researching whether an evaporator system would be advisable, learned of a similar evaporator in South Carolina and had reached out to the Department of Health and Environmental Control in that state and learned that there have been no concerns and no unexpected compliance issues from that project.

Officials say such evaporators are commonly used throughout the country and around the world, although it is a relatively new approach in Florida.

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