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Landfill closed for investigation

Patrick McCartney

The U.S. Forest Service has declared the Meyers Landfill off-limits for public recreation while the agency determines the extent that leaking contaminants have spread from the defunct landfill.

The open area is a popular destination for sledding, snowmobiling and hiking, said Sue Norman, a hydrologist overseeing the case for the Forest Service’s Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.

“We still will allow access along Garbage Dump Road to the Power Line trail, but we don’t want people to cross through the landfill,” Norman said.



The principal reason is the network of 21 monitoring wells the Forest Service has drilled to test for pollution. Each well is enclosed in a well casing that can be 2 or 3 feet high, which presents a hazard to recreational users.

“People can break them with a snowmobile and actually get killed,” said John Warner, El Dorado County’s manager of solid waste.



Besides the hazard to the public, officials investigating the leaking landfill say their task has been slowed by damage inflicted to the wells.

“We were getting tampering of the wells,” Norman said. “Four well locks have been broken; each time, the results can’t be counted.”

The Forest Service will post signs around the perimeter of the 30-acre site, located off Pioneer Trail. A fence will not be installed.

The Forest Service first detected some contamination a year ago, when monitoring wells picked up low levels of vinyl chloride in the groundwater beneath the former landfill. No other organic compounds have been found during the investigation, Norman said.

“Vinyl chloride is a very common byproduct of the breakdown of typical landfill waste,” Norman said. “At the time the landfill was operated, people didn’t know that household solvents could degrade and become a hazardous product.”

El Dorado County operated the landfill by special permit from 1955 to 1973, when it was closed and all refuse hauled out of the basin.

Opened before regulations required landfills to be lined with an impermeable plastic sheet, the old dump is now experiencing some of the problems characteristic of other closed landfills.

“We found vinyl chloride in groundwater samples within the landfill perimeter first; then we started seeing hits outside the landfill,” Norman said. So far, though, no contamination has been found threatening drinking water supplies, or in the surface water of Saxon Creek, she added.

“We’re still trying to figure out how far the plume extends,” Norman said. The Forest Service is conducting the investigation under the supervision of the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board.

At the end of the investigation, remedial work could range from regrading the area to reduce water infiltration, to removing all the waste once dumped at the site, to installing a liner beneath the waste.


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