Plume underneath old landfill growing |

Plume underneath old landfill growing

Andy Bourelle

A full-scale cleanup operation should be started next spring to stop a plume of carcinogenic chemicals from emanating out of the old Meyers Landfill.

Sixty-five feet below ground, a plume of vinyl chloride-contaminated water is moving toward Saxon Creek, which flows into Trout Creek. It is at least 1,400 feet long, and the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board is soon expecting results of new tests to see whether it has grown beyond that.

The vinyl chloride does not threaten any drinking water wells, and when it hits the creek it likely will volatilize, meaning it will turn into vapor.

Still, the contamination is a concern.

“It’s polluting the groundwater of the Tahoe Basin. We have to protect that,” said James Brathovde, Lahontan associate engineering geologist. “We have to protect even potential uses of the water supply.”

From the 1950s to 1970s, a Joint Powers Authority – El Dorado County, South Lake Tahoe and Douglas County – deposited garbage in the landfill. After the jurisdictions stopped using it, officials filled in the hole.

Located near Elks Club Road and Pioneer Trial, the area now is a grassy field. Below the soil, however, is a 20-foot-thick layer of garbage covering about 15 acres.

The soil in the area is sandy, and stormwater filters through the landfill. Brathovde said the vinyl chloride comes from the degradation of compounds such as automobile de-greaser and dry-cleaning solvents.

The resulting vinyl chloride normally would volatilize in groundwater, Brathovde said, but hasn’t in this case likely because of the coldness of the water.

“It’s rather surprising to see it there,” he said. “It’s unique. If (the contamination) was in the valley, we wouldn’t see it at all.”

Hints of vinyl chloride were discovered by monitoring in the early 1990s. In 1996, officials discovered the plume had moved 30 feet. In 1997, the Joint Powers Authority drilled 30 monitoring wells in the area to define the extent of contamination. More wells were drilled this summer, showing that the plume now has grown to at least 1,400 feet.

Officials have found vinyl chloride in the groundwater at levels as high as 40 and 50 parts per billion. The maximum contaminant level for the carcinogenic chemical is 0.5 parts per billion.

Brathovde said a pump-and-treat system will need to be built, where the contaminant will be pumped out of the ground, treated by a filter and released back into the ground. Additionally, a cap likely will have to be constructed over the trash-filled cavern. Currently only ordinary soil surrounds the garbage. Cleanup will be at least $500,000, he said, and maybe substantially more.

The U.S. Forest Service owns the land and has ultimate liability for the cleanup, Brathovde said. However, the members of the Joint Powers Authority are committed to the cleanup.

“It’s really a joint effort between El Dorado County, the city of South Lake Tahoe and Douglas County, Nev.,” said Jon Morgan, El Dorado County Environmental Management director. “We’re all participating because we all used it in the past.”

Officials are considering building a series of playing fields over the old Meyers Landfill, a proposal which Morgan said is certainly possible.

“There’s no reason it can’t be a park someday. Park or not, there will be cleanup projects going on. There’s no public health issues that will prohibit it from being a park,” he said. “Neighbors may not like the lights and the noise that are associated with parks. That would probably be a more likely reason it would be stopped.”

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