Archives for the day of: January 20, 2011

From TEDxTalks:

Joel Salatin is an American farmer, lecturer, and author whose books include You Can Farm and Salad Bar Beef. Salatin raises livestock using holistic methods of animal husbandry, free of potentially harmful chemicals, on his Polyface Farm in Swoope, Virginia. Salatins 550-acre farm is featured prominently in Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivores Dilemma and the documentary film, Food, Inc.

From Greenwire:

Several decades ago, the town dump was a nasty place where drums of chemicals, oil cans, rusting metal, food debris and pesticides were haphazardly tossed into crude pits.

Lacking physical separation from surrounding grounds, the dumps let stews of contaminants leach into groundwater, at times ruining local drinking supplies.

Environmental regulations have drastically improved since the 1980s, spurring the creation of regional landfills designed to keep pollution on site. But the improvements also left behind innumerable shuttered dumps, like the Schuyler Falls Sanitary Landfill in upstate New York, due west of Lake Champlain.

The unlined, 30-acre Schuyler Falls dump took in town and industrial waste for nearly two decades, ending in 1996. As water percolated through the site, organic contaminants in the pollution stew known as leachate moved into surrounding areas, prompting a costly monitoring regime involving 22 wells, each hosting tests for dozens of waste signatures.

Far from an exception, Schuyler Falls is a classic example of what happens when motley chemicals escape closed dumps.

“You can imagine all the different chemicals that are present in these landfill leachates,” said Paula Mouser, an environmental engineer at the University of Maine. “Because the leachate is so variable, we never really know what to monitor for in the groundwater.”

This uncertainty means that closed dumps will test up to four dozen parameters on a regular, often quarterly basis. And despite their range, these tests — which, for example, search for organic nutrients or sample temperature and salt conductivity — often fail to detect the leading edge, or fringe, of groundwater contamination. Once the plume is detected, it is already well on its way.

“These are shallow systems that are in good communication with rivers and rainfall infiltration and saturated soil systems,” Mouser said. “They are potentially harmful to the environment and human health, through connection with surface waters and groundwater wells.”

Mouser, a young professor who worked as a landfill engineer in Logan, Utah, before pursuing her doctorate, is convinced there is a quicker way to detect the fringe, one less dependent on uncertain chemical sampling.

If we really want to know when groundwater is shifting, she said, we should ask the natives. We should ask the bugs.

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