published Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

Residents near Rhea County landfill raise health concerns

Dump trucks empty their loads, on the backside of the Rhea County Landfill in Dayton, Tenn., while birds flock around a bounty of trash.  Residents, within a mile or two of the landfill, have expressed concerns about the smells and possibility of water contamination near the site.
Photo by Kimberly McMillian
Dump trucks empty their loads, on the backside of the Rhea County Landfill in Dayton, Tenn., while birds flock around a bounty of trash. Residents, within a mile or two of the landfill, have expressed concerns about the smells and possibility of water contamination near the site. Photo by Kimberly McMillian

DAYTON, Tenn. -- For Mary Mitchell, the absence of a refreshing daily drink from her backyard well has left a bad taste in her mouth.

Mitchell, who lives near the Rhea County Landfill on Smyrna Road, had her water tested by a Chattanooga-based environmental group and the analysis showed E. coli bacterial contamination, she said.

Her well water previously was "cold and real good" because it ran over limestone rock, she said.

Several landfill-area residents have expressed concern for their health, whether from contaminated water or the odor of methane gas emanating from the site.

Mitchell and fellow residents William and Brenda Yost and Earl Howard said they have suffered nosebleeds possibly related to the gas, and William Yost said the smell comes through his home's ventilation system during his late-night TV watching and on rainy days.

In March 2010, landfill operator Santek Environmental Inc., of Cleveland, Tenn., received a notice of violation from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation's division of water pollution control. The notice indicated that an inspection revealed insufficient reporting to the state of data on chemicals and other substances leaching out of the landfill and into surrounding areas.

According to the 2010 inspection, samples revealed elevated E. coli levels at the landfill and liquid from the landfill spilling off a concrete pad and into a nearby ditch.

Meg Lockhart, TDEC's deputy communications director, said in an email that state solid waste management officials have inspected the landfill and observed "no leachate ... waste was covered."

Lockhart's email added, though, that the landfill "continues to have problems meeting water quality criteria for E. coli in stormwater that is discharged."

She said upcoming studies through the TDEC office in Chattanooga will help to determine the source of the elevated levels of E. coli bacteria.

Santek is continuing to collect weekly stormwater samples for analysis, she said in the email.

Howard said he is circulating a petition urging county officials to address the odor and any health issues.

Kimberly McMillian is based in Rhea County. Contact her at kdj424@bellsouth.net.

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